Gavin Bazunu's bravery against Qatar a model for Ireland's path forward

Gavin Bazunu's bravery against Qatar a model for Ireland's path forward

Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

This doesn’t feel like the kind of night to wax lyrical about a goalkeeper who could easily have been sent off twice, but then there was nothing very normal about this friendly in the first place.

The Republic of Ireland drew 1-1 with Qatar in an empty stadium in Hungary just a few days after a humbling World Cup qualifying defeat by Luxembourg.

Stephen Kenny is still without a win as manager, an 11-game run that has only emboldened his strident critics and given those willing to allow him time little to back up that patience.

But in Gavin Bazunu Ireland look to have something different. If the 19-year-old goalkeeper performed like an old head on young shoulders when he made his debut against Luxembourg, here he looked prepared to embrace some of the chaos that can come with being a bit more adventurous.

It was, quite frankly, very entertaining to watch.

But is it OK to actually get a thrill from a goalkeeper that takes chances?

Is it allowed to be excited by someone between the posts that makes a couple of mistakes and then goes back about their business as if nothing untoward had happened?

After James McClean gave Ireland a fourth-minute lead, the adrenaline must still have been pumping for Bazunu when he poleaxed Pedro on the right side of the box.

A penalty was initially awarded before deliberations between the officials correctly made it a free-kick. Moments after that and Bazunu showed his sharp reactions by turning Almoez Ali’s close-range header around the post.

It was a fine save and he wasn’t to know the flag had gone up. As Ireland attempted to play from the back – too often boxing themselves into corners – Bazunu continually offered himself up as an out pass to switch direction of the move.

And even when a stray ball out forced Shane Duffy into an important tackle, the teenager never wilted. He continued to play his game. He collected a couple of routine crosses and even showed the speed of thought to drop his hands and prevent a possible red for handling outside the box.

But he was on the front foot.

He was proactive and brave and willing to stick to his guns, everything Ireland were lacking against Luxembourg.

If this was a club game or even another qualifier you could consider what Kenny did with his team selection to be a cull following that defeat.

The fact it was an international friendly on the back of two successive World Cup losses means it can’t quite be framed as an angry riposte from a beleaguered manager.

Maybe if he had stuck with the same starting XI – minus the injured Matt Doherty and Enda Stevens who returned to their respective clubs – it would have been more of a punishment from a boss who had to hear his captain talk about not playing with any pride in the shirt and being afraid to get on the ball against Luxembourg.

That couldn’t be levelled at the Ireland players in the first 45 minutes, when they raced out of the blocks and struck through McClean as he finished off a well-worked corner routine involving Daryl Horgan and Robbie Brady.

Kenny gave new coach Anthony Barry a bearhug, a clear nod that it was straight from the playbook of the set-piece specialist.

But as that first half wore on and Qatar equalised two minutes after the restart, this turned into a contest between two evenly-match sides.

Josh Cullen almost won it at the death with a late darting run and header but his effort was palmed away.

Kenny had made eight changes from Saturday’s humbling. Bazunu was the only player to emerge from the rubble of Aviva Stadium with his reputation enhanced and the teenager continues to forge a reputation.

Skipper Seamus Coleman, so forceful in his dissection of that Luxembourg fiasco, led his country out once more while centre back Dara O’Shea also maintained his place in the defence.

Everything else was ripped up, including the 3-5-2 formation as some experienced hands were embraced into the fold.

Duffy returned to the starting XI at the heart of a back three while Shane Long – 34 years of age these days – led the line.

Cyrus Christie filled in at right wing-back, McClean was on the left, while Horgan and Jayson Molumby were entrusted to provide more of a spark.

It worked in the opening stages but fizzled out as Qatar settled.

And then there were the Boys of 2016.

Jeff Hendrick and Brady have been maligned since an impressive showing at the European Championships in France.

The latter limped off with what looked like a calf injury midway through the first half while Hendrick just couldn’t impose himself on proceedings at all.

Experience and know-how will always be called for but this was a reminder of why change was needed in the first place.

Bazunu’s mentality, application, and ability are the way forward. Just a shame he can’t play centre midfield.

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