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Dublin: 12°C Monday 23 November 2020
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Impressive Ireland U15s overcome Australia U17s

Second-half goals from Kevin Zefi and Alex Nolan ensured Jason Donohue’s side maintained their 100% record this season.

Adam Murphy (left), Kevin Zefi (centre) and Alex Nolan (right) celebrate a goal.
Adam Murphy (left), Kevin Zefi (centre) and Alex Nolan (right) celebrate a goal.
Image: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

IRELAND U15S EARNED an impressive 2-0 win over Australia U17s in Abbotstown today.

Second-half goals from Kevin Zefi and Alex Nolan ensured Jason Donohue’s side maintained their 100% record this season.

It was another morale-boosting win for the Boys in Green at the FAI National Training Centre, having picked up a similarly impressive 3-1 victory over England at St George’s Park in December.

This group’s overall record now reads: played 8, won 8, scored 27, conceded four.

The hosts began with a 4-2-3-1 formation, reverting to a 4-3-3 at times.

Cathal Heffernan, the son of former Irish athletics stars Rob and Marian Heffernan, captained the team for the first time. He lined out alongside Sam Curtis at centre-back.

Finn Cowper Gray and Luke O’Brien were the full-backs, while James McManus and Joe O’Brien Whitmarsh operated as the sitting midfielders.

Making his first appearance for the side was American-born attacking midfielder of Irish descent, Pearse O’Brien, who flew in from Oakwood FC in Connecticut for the game, after impressing an FAI scout.

Zefi — born in Ireland to Albanian parents — operated on the left, while Adam Murphy played down the other flank, with Nolan the main forward.

The Irish team had the better of the opening 45 minutes. Nolan and Murphy both saw shots cleared off the line as the Boys in Green searched for an opener.

They were ultimately fortunate not to be one down just before the break though. Sebastian Hernandez capitalised as the Irish defence struggled to deal with a cross, but the attacker’s shot was well saved by goalkeeper Conor Walsh, before Cowper Gray cleared to safety.

Despite some good build-up play, both sides were lacking cutting edge in the final third in the first half. Ireland were more ruthless in the second period, however, and highly rated Shamrock Rovers youngster Zefi gave them the lead with a superb finish into the top corner, after being set up by Pearse O’Brien.

It was Zefi’s sixth goal for the U15s this season, and the youngster, one of eight Shamrock Rovers players in the squad, looked bright throughout, causing the Australians problems with his pace and dribbling ability, while also showing an eye for a clever pass.

On another day, Zefi could have had at least one more — his powerful shot from the edge of the area  in the 10th minute went just wide.

The Australians’ greater physicality was clear from the outset, given that their players were all roughly a year or two older than their counterparts. But the Irish coped admirably under the circumstances, regularly having the courage to play out from the back and attacking with intent.

Nolan missed a good chance to double the home side’s advantage shortly after the opening goal. Curtis’ ball out from the back sent him through on goal, though Australian goalkeeper Callum Cook saved when one-on-one with the forward.

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The St Patrick’s Athletic player made amends minutes later, however. After good work from substitute Cian Barrett to win the ball and thread it through, Nolan showed good composure to coolly slot home when one-on-one with Cook for the second time in the space of a few minutes.

A raft of substitutions followed, and the play inevitably struggled to maintain its earlier rhythm.

Nevertheless, Ireland were largely untroubled and looked solid in spite of the changes. Curtis and Heffernan produced commanding performances at the back as they saw out a deserved victory.

Donohue’s side will next be seeking to maintain their winning run when they travel to Spain for a tournament later this month, where they will face the hosts, Netherlands and Czech Republic.

Republic of Ireland: Walsh (O’Leary 50) Cowper Gray (Malone 50), Luke O’Brien (Hughes 50), Curtis (Kelly 61), Heffernan; O’Brien-Whitmarsh (Ferizaj 41), Pearse O’Brien (Murray 61), McManus (Barrett 41); Zefi, Nolan, Murphy (Tetteh 61)
 
Australia: Cook, Martelota, O’Donoghue, Mathie, Croucher, Hughes, Drew, Frack, Hernandez, Florez, Cefala.

Substitutes: Beach (GK), Ball, Di Pizio, Gibson, Tanddo, Skotadis, Inglese

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Paul Fennessy

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