This was a story of gale force rather than gael force, as a struggling Ireland scrambled to a 1-0 victory against lowly Gibraltar.
Jeff Hendrick got the second half goal which secured Mick McCarthy the three points he craved on his first game back as manager but, otherwise, this was anything but the kind of start to the Euro 2020 campaign he would have wanted, one crucial Darren Randolph save from a Roy Chipolina header all that stopped a difficult day becoming an embarrassing one for Ireland.
Right from the off, the wind played havoc with the flight of the ball but, fortunately, for Ireland it carried Gibraltar’s first and only attempt of the first half, a free kick by Liam Walker, harmlessly over Darren Randolph’s crossbar, just before the travelling Irish fans were treated to the novel sight of a jet taking off behind the Irish ‘keeper’s goal.
At the other end, Ireland’s first effort, a David McGoldrick shot, also flew comfortably over the top.
The visitors were struggling to get to grips with the pace and movement of the ball on the artificial surface, the measurement of passes an exercise in frustration as the ball constantly ran out of play, making for a recurring game of throw-ins.
— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) March 23, 2019
But the biggest obstacle for Ireland were the red shirts massed in their own half, Gibraltar content to yield up possession and solid in defending the Rock end of the ground.
Down the right side Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty were linking promisingly at times but, in the 28th minute, it was two home players getting in each other’s way which opened up the space for the Everton man to drive a dangerous ball across the face of goal.
For a moment, it looked like under pressure skipper Roy Chipolino was at risk of heading the ball into his own net but ‘keeper Kyle Goldwin rescued the situation with a fine reflex save at the expense of a corner.
Irish pressure continued to build as half-time approached, McGoldrick almost getting a decisive touch at close range and then a Conor Hourihane free from the left begging for something similar as the ball flashed across goal and just wide of the far post.
But still Ireland lacked the guile and invention to fashion a breakthrough and, right on the stroke of half-time, McClean summed up the visitors’ frustration as his late attempt to win a 50-50 ball earned him a yellow card.
And it almost got much worse straight after the resumption, as Gibraltar won a corner and Darren Randolph had to produce a superb save to keep Roy Chipollina’s header at bay.
Almost immediately, Ireland made the most of the reprieve, David McGoldrick getting into the box on the left and showing good composure to perfectly tee up Jeff Hendrick who was able to steer his shot inside the far post.
But instead of building on their lead, the visitors found the going even harder than they had in the first half.
As they needed to, Gibraltar showed more adventure in the second half, occasionally looking threatening on the break, and it was a sign of Irish nervousness about the narrowness of their advantage that Harry Arter was brought on to replace Sean Maguire with just under twenty minutes remaining.
Gibraltar: Goldwin, Sergeant, R Chipolina, J Chipolina, Olivero, Bardon, Walker, Hernandez (Pons 76), Annesley (Priestly 64), Casciaro, De Barr
Ireland: Randolph, Coleman (C), Duffy, Keogh, Stevens, Doherty (Brady 56), Hendrick, Hourihane, McClean,Maguire (Arter 72)
Referee: Anastasios Papapetrou (Greece)