Although David Carney’s spectacular injury time goal rubbed salt in Irish wounds, the real damage had been done in the first 45 minutes, a half which witnessed as lacklustre and disjointed a performance from the home side as we have seen under Giovanni Trapattoni. And a much brighter, slicker and well-drilled Australian side were well-poised to take advantage, ultimately inflicting only the second defeat of the Italian’s reign.
That both reversals have come in friendlies might be some source of consolation except that we had been led to believe that last night’s game was going to be something of a dress rehearsal for the resumption of serious World Cup business next month. But, after this walloping setback, the Irish will need to be altogether more battle-ready and tuned-in when they travel to Nicosia to take on a Cypriot side who themselves will be smarting after being thrashed 6-1 by Albania in a friendly in Tirana last night.
Darron Gibson, in at centre midfield instead of Keith Andrews, may be valued more for his artistry than his application but here he was conspicuous in doing the dirty work early on, tracking back to make interceptions and working hard to win the ball, as Ireland looked worryingly rusty and Australia dominated possession with some neat passing in the opening phase of the game. However, when he had a great chance on a surging break from midfield to put in either the well-placed Robbie Keane or Kevin Doyle, Gibson first made the wrong choice in opting for the latter – and then compounded the error by over-cooking the pass.
To judge by one great defensive tackle he put in on the edge of his own box, Aiden McGeady also knew that he needed to show his manager workrate as well as dazzling skill. Not that there was a whole lot of that on show. And alarmingly Doyle, who was clearly some way short of match sharpness, apparently suffered a reaction to his injury during the course of the game as Ireland generally struggled to shape a cutting edge.
It was the 12th minute before Ireland put a move of consequence together, McGeady and Kevin Kilbane – who otherwise had a poor evening – combining well on the left before the latter’s cross was headed over the top by Robbie Keane. Then, seven minutes later, McGeady cut inside and played a superb diagonal ball to Damien Duff in space on the opposite flank, but his tame shot on goal was deflected for a corner. And soon there was more magic from the Celtic man as another run and penetrating pass allowed Robbie Keane to weave a little space in the box before bringing the best out of Mark Schwarzer.
But, in truth such modest highlights were few and far between for Ireland, and Shay Given was the busier of the two ‘keepers, first getting down smartly to save a Harry Kewell free-kick and then doing even better to keep out a header by Patrick Kisnorbo.
But Ireland’s number one was left entirely flat-footed in the 37th minute when, despite five green shirts being in close attention, Scott McDonald and Tim Cahill were allowed to conjure enough space for the Everton man to score with a low shot to the corner of the net. And the damage was doubled just before the break when, this time, Given couldn’t hold Rhys William’s stinging shot and Cahill was there again to lash home the rebound and send Australia in as deserved two-goal leaders at half-time.
At the resumption, Ireland were doubtless glad to see the back of the Everton man as the goalscorer was one of three Aussies to make way. But Trapattoni also rang the changes, Stephen Hunt coming on for a below par Duff and Caleb Folan replacing Doyle.
AND, as you might expect of a side forced to chase the game, there was now more urgency about the home side, with McGeady switching to the right and Hunt looking to stretch the opposition on the left. But, even without big name players like Cahill and Celtic’s Scott McDonald, Australia’s admirably slick passing was continuing to find players in threatening positions.
Preston’s Eddie Nolan, on as a substitute for Kilbane, did his prospects no harm, overlapping on the left, using the ball well and, in the 87th minute, setting up Keith Andrews for shot which came back off the foot of the post. Still, for all the Irish pressure, it wasn’t as if the home side was exactly peppering the Australian goal with shots, even though the arrival of Shane Long ten minutes from the end had added fresh zip to their efforts and Sean St Ledger might have done better with a close-range header after a flick-on from Caleb Folan.
With Given largely a spectator in the second half, Keiren Westwood had been called from the bench with just over 20 minutes to go. But the highly rated Coventry City man could hardly be blamed when, three minutes into time added-on, David Carney unleashed his corker from 30 yards out to crown Thomond’s debut as an international football stadium with a truly memorable goal.
It’s just that it was not the way that Irish football was hoping to remember this night. And any more of this sort of thing, and ‘Nicosia- The Sequel’ could be a real horror show.
Subs for Republic of Ireland: Hunt for Duff, 45; Folan for Doyle, 45; Andrews for Gibson, 61; Nolan for Kilbane, 61; Westwood for Given, 67; Long for McGeady, 80.
Subs for Australia: Holman for Cahill, 45; Madaschi for Kisnorbo, 45; Rukavytsya for McDonald, 45; Spiranovic for North, 70; Carle for Bresciano, 77; Holland for Jedinak, 88.