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Kenny's relief and a 41-year-old's remarkable achievement - 3 Ireland-Andorra talking points

Plus, Troy Parrott and Jason Knight show their potential for the future.

Andorra's Ildefons Lima dejected after the game.
Andorra's Ildefons Lima dejected after the game.
Image: Bagu Blanco/INPHO

1. Relief for Stephen Kenny as winless run comes to an end

IT MAY NOT have been great to watch at times, but the overriding feeling will be relief as Ireland overcame Andorra 4-1 this evening.

The visitors’ first half performance was quite simply dire.

They struggled to create chances against a team ranked 158th in the world — 111 places below them.

There were caveats — the hosts were reasonably well organised and skilled at slowing the game down by any means necessary.

And once the underdogs took a shock lead out of nothing after 52 minutes, as Marc Vales was inexplicably allowed to head home a free kick unchallenged, Kenny would be forgiven for thinking that the footballing gods were simply against him.

Yet the Irish manager then enjoyed one benefit that has been lacking for the majority of his reign so far — good fortune.

The fortuitous break of the ball for the equaliser and some suspect goalkeeping helped Ireland on their way to what was ultimately a comfortable win.

Perspective is needed though, given that the game was a friendly against a country with an estimated population of around 77,000 and who last year suffered losses to both Faroe Islands and Cape Verde.

It would be a stretch to say the Irish boss has silenced his critics, particularly in light of the dreadful first-half display, but it is a much-needed morale boost and a step in the right direction.

And in many ways, facing Andorra is a ‘no-win’ situation, in that people will almost always feel you should have performed better and scored more.

If you consider the context, however, it is a respectable result — the team scored four goals, the most they have registered since playing Oman in 2016, and more than Poland, Turkey, Iceland and France managed in their most recent encounters with the Andorrans.

So getting the win is a psychological boost for Kenny and co, but a truer reflection of whether the team have improved much will likely come during Tuesday’s encounter with Hungary.

2. Parrott and Knight show potential for the future

The phrase ‘how much worse can it get’ has been uttered more than once during the Stephen Kenny era, and being 1-0 down against Andorra after 52 minutes felt almost as close to rock bottom as it was possible to go — though a defeat after 90 minutes would have been considerably worse.

The Irish team featured some experienced faces, yet it was arguably the two youngest outfield players in the starting XI who had the biggest impact.

19-year-old Tottenham starlet Troy Parrott, in particular, stood out, and earned a deserved man-of-the-match award from RTÉ.

The Dubliner’s first goal began with an element of fortune, as the ball broke kindly for him, but he still had plenty of work to do, producing a purposeful run and fine finish from the edge of the area.

His second goal demonstrated supreme athleticism, as he leapt impressively before heading the ball so powerfully from Conor Hourihane’s well-executed cross that the Andorran goalkeeper could only help it into the net.

It was then Jason Knight’s turn to take centre-stage. A diligent all-round display from the Derby youngster was rewarded in fitting fashion on 84 minutes, as a characteristic lung-busting run saw him convert a brilliant cross from substitute Daryl Horgan.

The same two players linked up again five minutes later, as Knight’s bullet cross enabled the alert Wycombe winger to capitalise with a diving header.

Like this Ireland team in general, Parrott and Knight are far from the finished product.

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The Tottenham starlet scored as many goals this evening as he managed in the entire season on loan in the Championship and League One.

But the youthful duo provided a glimpse of their potential, which they look capable of fulfilling provided they continue to develop their game and maintain the right mentality.

3. A remarkable landmark for Ildefons Lima 

It may have been a disappointing night for Andorra, but it was a memorable occasion for one player in particular.

41-year-old Ildefons Lima came off the bench, which meant he emulated Finland legend Jari Litmanen’s feat of playing international football in four separate decades.

The Barcelona-born defender has enjoyed a decent career at club level, with his former sides including Spanish teams Las Palmas and Rayo Vallecano, while he is currently on the books at Andorran club Inter Club d’Escaldes.

He made his international debut in 1997 and has scored 11 goals in 129 appearances for his country, one of which was the opening goal against Ireland in a World Cup qualifier as far back as 2001.

For a while, it looked like Lima would be prevented from making the landmark appearance — controversy over comments he made over a lack of coronavirus testing within the team set-up saw him initially ostracised by Andorran officials.

Yet the row was eventually settled, paving the way f0r Lima’s substitute appearance this evening.

It was a defeat, of course, a feeling that the veteran player will be more familiar with than most at international level.

Yet the fact that he has continued to persevere for four decades despite the team’s relative lack of success is a true testament to his professionalism and represents a genuinely inspiring story in a game often mired in cynicism.

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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