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Ireland's dynamic midfield duo turn heads against Ronaldo, Fernandes and co

Josh Cullen and Jeff Hendrick put in a massive shift.

REST YOUR WEARY limbs.

And necks.

Midfield duo Josh Cullen and Jeff Hendrick put in a shift that deserves to be rewarded by putting their feet up. And a nice cushion to lay their heads on.

jeff-hendrick-and-cristiano-ronaldo A general view of Jeff Hendrick in action tonight. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Of course, it will be all about recovery now with the trip to Luxembourg on the horizon and they will board that plane with a renewed confidence about how they now operate in this Ireland midfield.

They are the two key men in the centre who look as though they have developed the kind of understanding, and relationship, to form a considerable partnership .

And if they’re not sitting side by side on the plane, if this performance is anything to go by you can be certain their heads will be on a swivel to make sure they know exactly where each other are.

That awareness and communication was crucial here. Aside from both having demands placed on them to offer themselves for passes from their centre backs to try and move Ireland up the pitch, it was imperative they operated in tandem to ensure Portugal were not able to find spaces between the half way line and penalty box to carve out opportunities.

Ireland’s midfield duo were brilliant, especially as they had to worry about Bruno Fernandes coming at them in front as well as Cristiano Ronaldo and Andre Silva lurking in behind.

The visiting forwards took turns on the left and through the middle but Cullen and Hendrick, ably supported by the commands of their three centre backs, always knew what was around them.

On the one occasion Ronaldo did find that yard of space in the box, it was the retreating Hendrick who covered the centre back position from the counter attack.

It was the 67th minute and Hendrick, again his head continuously turning to know what was around him, seemed to get close enough to the Manchester United man to prevent him for a clear sight of the floating cross.

He swung his head at it hopefully and the ball trickled harmlessly wide.

This didn’t dent Ireland’s confidence or see them retreat. Instead, Cullen continued to drop to take the ball on the half turn to keep his side moving.

Hendrick was always close by, until he was substituted with 12 minutes to go and replaced by Conor Hourihane. Luxembourg is on the horizon and there are more battles to come.

Incidentally, seconds after Hendrick departed Ronaldo found space on the left side of midfield, drove towards that corner of the penalty area and struck one of those dipping, swerving shots that have become his trademark.

It flashed inches past the post.

It was a rare moment where it felt as if Ireland’s midfield were not in control of their defensive shape

Some of the rhetoric surrounding Kenny’s tenure would lead you to believe he is all style over substance.

Ireland have been left exposed in some games since he took charge and had Serbia a striker of the class of Ronaldo, perhaps they would have left Dublin with three points last month.

josh-cullen-with-bruno-fernandes-and-joao-palhinha Ireland's Josh Cullen chases for the ball ahead of Bruno Fernandes and Joao Palhinha of Portugal. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

This time around there seemed to be a solidity about the way Ireland played. Cullen and Hendrick were absolutely crucial to that protective blanket and any suggestion that the Anderlecht star is some kind of crab in the system – going side to side and nowhere else – was blown apart.

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His passing was progressive, sharp and gave Ireland confidence. Creativity further up still remains elusive and will be a far harder problem to solve.

Ireland made sure space was at a premium and Portugal never got turned on a consistent basis to cause damage with through balls.

Bruno Fernandes cut a frustrated figure – something he’s got down to a tee at club level these days – and looked disinterested as Ireland went toe-to-toe.

When he trudged off with a quarter-of-an-hour to go, there was still a game to be won.

When Pepe was shown a second yellow card, it was Ireland who pushed for the goal that would have taken the roof off a sold-out Lansdowne Road.

They stood up in unison for much of the last 10 minutes.

The goal didn’t come and a point will have to do.

But Cullen and Hendrick have helped ensure that heads have been turned by this performance.

There was a time not so long ago when some felt Kenny’s was on the block.

Bernard Jackman, Niamh Briggs, and Ciarán Kennedy join Murray Kinsella to discuss Ireland v All Blacks and the latest big story in Irish women’s rugby:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

About the author:

David Sneyd  / reports from the Aviva Stadium

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