Irish Rover Byrne grasps chance to make positive impression on McCarthy

Irish Rover Byrne grasps chance to make positive impression on McCarthy

Getting the basics right on a night like this is the minimum requirement.

Cullen makes an impression

If there was one moment that will stick in the memory of Mick McCarthy, it was the sight of Josh Cullen tracking a run for the guts of 30 yards to make an important block in the box just after the half-hour mark.

The Ireland defence had been split open by Bozhidar Kraev’s pass and Daniel Mladenov looked certain to test Mark Travers in goal.

Cullen had read the danger, though, and while it might have been easy to switch off, considering the lackadaisical nature of the contest, the on-loan Charlton Athletic midfielder remained alert.

Glenn Whelan is the man ahead of him in the pecking order and such concentration levels are a staple of his game.

Moments later, Cullen showed he has another string to his bow with a burst forward into the Bulgaria box. That energy, combined with defensive nous, is no bad thing at all.

Hourihane must remain a middle man

Christie, Cullen, and Judge sounds like the name of an unscrupulous law firm and that trio were all guilty of misplacing simple crossfield balls during a dour opening 45 minutes.

All three were aimed in the direction of Conor Hourihane, whom Mick McCarthy started at left-back in an experiment that offered little in the way of evidence for his suitability in that role, other than he happens to be left-footed.

Cyrus Christie, Alan Judge, and Cullen somehow managed to overhit their attempted switches of play, and it left Hourihane vexed — he gestured to Christie to keep moving the ball sharply with shorter passes.

Perhaps if the Aston Villa man was used in his preferred central midfield role he could have had more of an influence on an Ireland performance that was laboured for long periods.

Hogan stands, but fails to deliver

If there was any doubt at all that Scott Hogan tried to score himself with his follow-up to Ronan Curtis’s shot in the build-up to Ireland’s opening goal, you only had to watch him traipse over to eventually celebrate with Alan Browne.

The Cork native tapped in from just a couple of yards, after Hogan’s effort fell invitingly in front of him, and as he slid with delight on the Lansdowne Road turf, his teammate moped his way across.

Head bowed, perhaps embarrassed, Hogan eventually congratulated the Preston North End midfielder on his first goal at senior international level.

McCarthy subbed the striker soon after, and with Troy Parrott making waves for the U-21s, it may not be long until the Dubliner is viewed as a more credible alternative.

There is a buzz around the Tottenham Hotspur youngster — still only 17, the same age Robbie Keane earned his first senior cap.

His rapid development for club and country is no flash in the pan.

Pride before the fall for captain Egan

What pride John Egan must have felt to lead out his country and wear the captain’s armband.

However, this was undoubtedly an audition for the Sheffield United defender and his clumsy concession of a penalty won’t have done his claims to force his way into the first-choice starting XI any favours.

Shane Duffy and Richard Keogh are the dependable duo for the manager so it will be galling for Egan that he slipped up in the manner that he did.

Cyrus Christie hardly helped his cause by giving away possession so easily to Ivan Goranov on the edge of the box, and the quick feet of the impressive Bozhidar Kraev caught Egan out as he kicked his shins just as the forward was about to take his shot.

Byrne makes his mark and leaves a legacy

Jack Byrne was the first Ireland substitute introduced in the 59th minute, and the Shamrock Rovers midfielder certainly made the most of his opportunity.

Not only did he become the 500th senior Irish international, but he was a key figure in the two goals which helped turn a tepid 1-1 draw into a more enjoyable 3-1 victory.

Like Cullen’s covering defensive run and tackle in the first half, manager Mick McCarthy will surely have been buoyed by seeing Byrne deliver a perfectly-flighted corner to the back post for Kevin Long to head home, before following it up by orchestrating the best move in the game for James Collins’ debut goal.

The playmaker dinked a precision pass over the head of Bulgaria’s right back, which Enda Stevens played first time across the six-yard box.

Collins was waiting to put away an outstretched finish. It was the perfect way to end a night that will be quickly forgotten by most, but remembered forever by a select few.

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