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Dublin: 1 °C Sunday 17 November, 2019
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Aaron Connolly's big night ruined, as Ireland's lack of quality catches up with them

Mick McCarthy said beforehand that he didn’t feel any great sense of belief from those in the pre-match press conference. This 90 minutes showed why, writes David Sneyd.

Ireland's Aaron Connolly dejected after the game.
Ireland's Aaron Connolly dejected after the game.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THERE ARE PLACES in this city filled with glamour, beauty and amazing wealth.

The Stade de Geneva was not such a venue tonight, as Ireland and Switzerland battled it out in the muck and the rain in a good old-fashioned dust-up.

It was the Swiss who emerged victorious, and while Ireland still have another chance at automatic qualification should they beat Denmark in Dublin in the final Group D meeting, such a fixture holds bitter, troubled memories.

This was a night of tension, drama and intrigue. And then the match started, slipping seamlessly into a pattern of Switzerland probing and passing, while Ireland hurriedly gave away possession in that familiar, perpetually panicked state we have all become so used to.

That nerviness led to the home side scoring a sublime 16th-minute goal, one which ultimately proved enough to secure all three points.

Aaron Connolly was Ireland’s history boy, but the glory of a goal on his full debut escaped him on a night of deep frustration for Mick McCarthy’s side.

At 19 years and 260 days old, the Brighton attacker because the youngest player to start a competitive international for Ireland since Robbie Keane in November 1999.

Two decades on, and with the record Irish goalscorer now part of Mick McCarthy’s coaching staff, it seemed like an apt handing over of the baton.

If Connolly can score even half of the 67 goals Keane netted for his country, he will be seen as a major success story. His is only beginning of course, his career all in front of him, and there are sure to be many more nights like this: it was a pig of a shift for the youngster.

He was replaced by Scott Hogan with 20 minutes remaining after a gruelling time in which he was kicked from pillar to post and even attempted an audacious overhead from Seamus Coleman’s cross 10 minutes into the second half.

He swung at fresh air but it bodes well that, even after being roughed up and flogged in attack, he possessed the belief to even try it.

“Be not afraid” was the message on one of the dozens of tricolours hanging behind the goal where Haris Sererovic arrowed his left-foot shot through the legs of Shane Duffy and beyond Darren Randolph in the bottom corner.

The question here was whether Ireland were capable of producing an inspired performance just three days after the mediocre fare served up away to Georgia in Tbilisi.

The answer was no — even if they did rally briefly in the second period without creating a clear-cut opportunity. Coleman’s sending off and Randolph’s subsequent penalty save in the last quarter of an hour added excitement, just a shame it came at the wrong end.

Heavy rain throughout the day leading up to kick-off meant a pitch — one that was only recently relayed because of a fungus infection and was most kindly described as brutal, even while baked in Swiss sunshine 24 hours previously — disintegrated into a quagmire in certain, key areas.

The goalmouth at the end in which the hosts scored during the first half was heavily damaged, so too the right flank where both dugouts watched on.

For Mick McCarthy, the resulting sloppy encounter would have been manna from heaven. For Swiss boss Vladimir Petković, who described this Group D clash as a cup final, he would have been tearing out his hair. Until Seferovic struck, that is.

Polish referee Szymon Marciniak deemed the Stade de Geneva surface playable two hours before kick-off.

Acerbic commentators might say it aided rather than hindered Ireland’ cause. There were some neat moments of interplay and passing, James Collins releasing a tame shot on the stroke of half-time after good work down the right created the chance.

It was an indication that Switzerland could be troubled, Ireland just didn’t possess enough quality to carve them open.

This was never going to be a night when Ireland suddenly blossomed into a free-flowing, cohesive, tiki-taka unit. It was always going to be about those trusty traits of grit, determination and perseverance.

In these conditions, that’s exactly what was called for, although quality of touch and control was a necessity. That is where Ireland struggled, they at times looked capable of causing problems but in the final third were lacking that decisive edge.

Connolly was thrust into a starting berth alongside James Collins as McCarthy switched to a 3-5-2 formation that sought to allow the 19-year-old cause as much damage as possible with teammates in close proximity.

The Ireland manager was adamant he didn’t want the Brighton frontman isolated, which is why Luton Town’s battering ram was always close by. Such was the confusing nature of a poor opening 45 minutes, there was, unsurprisingly, little opportunity for the two men to work up and sort of understanding.

Matt Doherty was dropped to the bench along with Callum Robinson and Conor Hourihane, but that is not where the changes stopped as Ireland tinkered with various formations.

None really clicked and once the Swiss got themselves in front just after the quarter hour mark, this was never going to be that grand celebration of qualification for next summer’s European Championships.

Shane Duffy’s own goal was the last kick of the game and it was a sad sight to see him prone on the sodden turf.

McCarthy said beforehand that he didn’t feel any great sense of belief from those in the pre-match press conference that Ireland would win. This 90 minutes showed why. You know what you will get with Ireland and, while there is little that inspires a great deal of excitement, they possess plenty of gumption.

The problem is, that only gets you so far. And it might not even be enough to reach Dublin in 2020.

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About the author:

David Sneyd  / reports from Stade de Geneva

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