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'Tonight is probably one of the most enjoyable games I’ve had for Ireland'

Conor Hourihane was feeling optimistic after Stephen Kenny’s side comfortably overcame Qatar.

Ireland players celebrate a goal.
Ireland players celebrate a goal.
Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

CONOR HOURIHANE was full of optimism after helping Ireland secure an impressive 4-0 win over Qatar on Tuesday night.

The midfielder hailed his teammates’ performance and suggested Ireland were beginning to turn a corner after a series of disappointing results.

“It’s been a fantastic camp, a fantastic week. I feel like we’ve taken big steps forward, I feel like we’ve done that over the last number of camps but maybe not the results. Performances have definitely been getting better over the last couple of months, there has been a feel-good factor in the camp, I think people can probably see that, keep building and keep moving forwards.”

And while it was a strong team performance, there was one individual in particular who shone, as Callum Robinson hit a hat-trick, providing Ireland with the cutting edge that they have so often lacked in recent times.

“It’s a big boost for the squad, one thing over the last couple of years since I’ve been in the squad has been a lack of goals from the players. Duffy always gets his head on something, you need that striker, you need that talisman to chip in with goals all the time. Robbo, with five goals in a week — it’s a fantastic week for him — hopefully, he can be that player for us.”

On Ireland’s improvement of late, the Bandon native added: “I think it was just a persistency on what the manager wanted, he kept a clear message, he never came away from his beliefs. Obviously, it took a bit of time. We kept working hard on the same things, we kept believing in what the manager wanted, we felt over the last couple of camps that we weren’t getting the results but the performances were getting better.

“This week, it’s two results, it’s fair to say the results have come as well, just that persistency. We have to use that week to keep moving in the right direction, because obviously the two results, you can’t get too much better than that. It has to be a springboard for more results rather than just performances.

“When results aren’t going great, it’s easy for confidence to go. You have to keep believing as much as you can and we have a lot of draws as well so you do think that you’re close. You get that little bit of luck, a penalty tonight — I don’t know if we’d had a penalty in how long — the goal, the ‘keeper making the mistake for Robbo’s second goal in Azerbaijan, it looks like a little bit of luck is going for us, which is great.”

Hourihane added that the build-up and significant preparation for this international window proved particularly beneficial.

“That was massive. We had a free week, we’d two games, it’s always been three so we used the week in our favour. A lot of international teams, friends back in England meeting up with England and Scotland were meeting up Monday or Tuesday but we were in on Sunday at three o’clock. We wanted to make the most of this time to keep hammering home the messages, keep hammering home the hard work on the training ground. It’s paid off this week.”

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The 30-year-old also hailed the impact of some of the less experienced members of the squad, with Andrew Omobamidele, Jamie McGrath and Chiedozie Ogbene among those to impress last night.

“Andrew has been hugely impressive, Jamie has come in and been a breath of fresh air, Gavin Bazunu, Caoimhin tonight, people like that. They have been fantastic, they can play the way the manager wants to play — technically very good, they are like a sponge, they take in messages all the time, they want to improve and get better.

“They’ve been great additions to the squad. They have added strength and depth to the squad, and they’ve come in and taken their opportunities. It’s been fantastic really because over the time I’ve been here we’ve probably struggled a little bit for players to come through, it’s kind of been the same old faces. But now all of a sudden there is an influx of young, fresh, hungry players who play the way the manager wants to play, which is great.

“I suppose the way Stephen wants to play in midfield suits me, Josh, Jeff, whoever plays in there. It’s great. Tonight is probably one of the most enjoyable games I’ve had for Ireland. Loads of touches on the ball, loads of options, it was great, just free-flowing. 

“It’s exciting, I suppose, it’s great that it’s coming together a little bit. But in the next camp, we’ve got Portugal at home, which is a very tough game. So there is still a lot of hard work to do and we are only meeting up again in three weeks’ time. Before we know it, we are going to be back together again. It’s a great springboard to move forward and it feels like things are falling for us a little bit. The hard work we showed this week to come in early, it’s definitely a good week to build on.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy  / reports from the Aviva Stadium

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