O’Connor gets Irish off to a flier

IRELAND Under-19 manager Paul Doolin lavished praise on his young guns last night after they kicked off their European Championship finals campaign in Romania with a win.

Defender Anthony O’Connor picked the perfect time to break his scoring duck in netting a double but Doolin insisted it took a great deal of concentration to overcome what he described as “crazy weather”.

A freak outbreak of thunder and lightning on the outskirts of the city resulted in the earlier game between Spain and Belgium in Group B being abandoned 20 minutes in. As Ireland’s fixture was being played less than four miles away, the heavy rain which fell caused Polish referee Pawel Gill to delay confirming the match going ahead until five minutes before kick-off.

O’Connor popped up to fire Ireland ahead with just two minutes on the clock. Sean Murray forced a corner on the right, from which the Watford winger found O’Connor unmarked 10 yards out to volley home his first goal of the season.

Greece needed just three minutes to equalise. Nikos Karelis was afforded too much space on the right to deliver a cross and when Aaron McCarey slipped in punching the ball clear, Giorgis Katidis seized the chance to rattle the net with a low drive.

It might have been Ireland ahead again by the break only for Greek goalkeeper Stefanos Kapino adjusting his feet in the nick of time to claw away an Anthony Forde cross.

Doolin’s clear emphasis on utilising set-pieces worked again when Ireland netted their second goal from another corner on the right six minutes after the restart.

On this occasion, Murray went short by feeding Samir Carruthers and his instant cross to the back post was headed powerfully past Greek goalkeeper Stefanos Kapino.

Greece pressed and it took a one-handed save by McCarey from Katidis’s header five minutes from time to ensure Ireland held on for the three points.

“It was a terrific save,” admitted Doolin afterwards. “I still think we probably shaded the game and this result gives us a good platform to go on in the group.

“I have to say our lads were fantastic. We played some excellent football.”

Next up for Ireland in Group A is a meeting with Czech Republic, 3-1 winners over Romania in the other game in the pool contested yesterday, before they face the hosts next Tuesday. The top two from the group progress to the semi-final stage.

REP OF IRELAND: McCarey (Wolves); Doherty (Wolves), Egan (Sunderland), O’Connor (Blackburn), Williams (Aston Villa); Carruthers (Aston Villa), O’Sullivan (Blackburn), Hendrick (Derby), Wearen (West Ham United), Forde (Wolves); Murphy (Bray).

Subs: Smith (Watford) for Murphy (77), Shaughnessy (Aberdeen) for Williams (80), Ferdinand (Southend) for O’Sullivan (85).

GREECE: Kapino; Stafylidis, Lagos, Potouridis, Mavrias; Karelis, Marinakis, Rougalas, Fortounis; Diamantakos, Katidis.

Subs: Kotsaridis for Diamantakos (46), Bakaesetas for Karelis (54), Kolovos for Marinakis (70 mins),

Referee: Pawel Gill (Poland).

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