The windy conditions and Victoria Stadium playing surface made a difficult away assignment even trickier under the shadow of the Rock of Gibraltar.
A win, any kind of win, was the minimum requirement considering all the negativity that surrounded the final months of Martin O’Neill’s tenure.
A win is a win
In that regard, Mick McCarthy will be relieved to have gotten his second spell in charge off to a winning start.
Unsurprisingly, Ireland dominated territory and possession but, as with their previous manager, struggled to convert that dominance into enough clear-cut chances and just one goal against the 194th FIFA-ranked country.
The goalkeeper, back four and midfield played solidly in both 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 formations yet still coughed up a couple of chances that better quality opposition might well have converted.
There is little doubt that Georgia will be a step up in class and ability on Tuesday night.
How Mick McCarthy’s side fares in their first home qualifier of the campaign should be better indicator of challenge facing Ireland’s returning manager in the coming year.
Problems up front
David McGoldrick and Sean Maguire’s inclusions made sense considering the Sheffield United and Preston North End pairs recent form for their respective Championship clubs.
Both are capable strikers despite neither having found the net for their country.
On a weekend Jonathan Walters announced his retirement from international football, Ireland’s attacking options have rarely looked as limited.
The Republic scored a paltry four times during Martin O’Neill’s final year in charge and his replacement is well aware of the necessity to source a regular supplier of goals.
Graham Burke, Aiden O’Brien, Scott Hogan, Shane Long and Callum Robinson represent Ireland’s current attacking alternatives with Tottenham youngster Troy Parrott a possible future inclusion.
None of those names inspire confidence so devising a strategy to get starting strikers McGoldrick and Maguire on the scoresheet rather than his midfielders is Mick McCarthy’s biggest immediate challenge.
Hourihane’s positive contribution
Conor Hourihane enhanced his future international prospects with a man of the match display. The Aston Villa midfielder was at the hub of Ireland’s best moments during a disjointed game and two early free-kicks showcased the playmaker’s ability to deliver quality set-pieces.
Hourihane was also the one to cushion a precise pass into David McGoldrick’s path during the build-up to Jeff Hendrick’s goal.
Robbie Brady’s long-term injury deprived Ireland of one of their most important attacking outlets both from free-kicks and open play over the past twelve months. Under Mick McCarthy, Conor Hourihane now has a chance to assume that mantle with a returning Brady making Ireland even more of a threat from set-pieces.
Hendrick’s vital role and goal
Jeff Hendrick became the first Irish international to score for Mick McCarthy since Clinton Morrison netted against Russia back in September 2002.
The 27-year-old’s work rate and willingness to close down opposing midfielders is often overlooked but Hendrick produced another understated performance and scored his second goal in 45 international appearances.