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Brilliant Ireland hammer Qatar to hand Stephen Kenny his first home victory

Callum Robinson hit a hat-trick in Ireland’s 4-0 win in tonight’s friendly at the Aviva Stadium.

Callum Robinson celebrates his opening goal.
Callum Robinson celebrates his opening goal.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Republic of Ireland 4

Qatar 0

IRELAND, ADORNED IN BLUE in recognition of their history, tonight took a lengthy stride toward the future envisaged by Stephen Kenny.

Sometimes it felt like Kenny was the only person who could forsee it: six months ago his side were humbled here by Luxembourg and could only draw with Qatar, and a besieged manager insisted through the stirrings of tears that, “I don’t care what anyone says, I am clear in what I want to do.” 

The wait for his first victory might have felt every bit as long as the 100 years tonight’s blue jersey commemorated but, at the end of it all, and in front of a Covid-capped sell-out crowd of 25,749 people, it seems Kenny was very much right.  

This was Ireland’s biggest winning margin here since Oman were beaten by the same scoreline in 2016, and it was the biggest win either home or away since, well, Saturday. 

But unlike the weekend Callum Robinson did get his hat-trick, with Shane Duffy adding a fourth from a corner. Qatar were admittedly ramshackle but Ireland made them look so.

Plus, they are ranked within Fifa’s top 50 nations, and Ireland have been making heroes of teams outside the top 100 in recent years.

Tonight It took Robinson all of three minutes to score from outside the box: collecting a throw-in, he played a neat one-two with Conor Hourihane on the edge of the box and then let fly, seeing his shot flick off a defender and loop over Meshaal Barsham. Stephen Kenny stumbled in celebration and then pumped his arms to the crowd; Robinson almost ended up in among them. 

Ireland started fabulously and didn’t let up as once they had the lead, with the labour of Stephen Kenny’s dark Covid winter finally flourishing.

They pressed Qatar ferociously while moving the ball with slick conviction in a whirring, blurring series of kinetic triangles, leaving their opponents befuddled.

Ogbene should have made it 2-0 shortly after Robinson’s opener but miscued in the six-yard box from a stunning, fizzed Hourihane cross but no matter – the second goal arrived shortly after.

It was, of course, scored by Robinson, as he rolled the ball past Barsham from the penalty spot after Jamie McGrath was fouled by Karim Boudiaf. Robinson became the first Irish player to score in successive games since Jon Walters did so in June 2017, and in doing so ensured Ireland scored more than once in two-straight games since they did so against Oman and Serbia more than five years ago. 

stephen-kenny-gestures-to-the-crowd-before-the-game Stephen Kenny gestures to the crowd at the Aviva Stadium. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Not all Irish starlets at Liverpool make it at Irish senior level – the Qatar physio at tonight’s game, Richie Partridge, is testament to that fact – but tonight Caoimhin Kelleher did make that leap, though it took 15 minutes for him to have his first touch and realise it. Such was the extent of Ireland’s early dominance. 

From there some of the pace ebbed from the Irish play but they remained dominant, and Ogbene saw his header from another perfect Robinson cross bounce off the crossbar. 

The final quarter of the first half saw Ireland take another notch from the pace of the game and occasionally they again looked too easy to play through in midfield, though the outstanding McGrath appeared in his own penalty area in the first half’s closing stages to ensure Ireland weren’t punished for a rare moment of indolence. 

Eight minutes into the second-half, the stats needed an update: now Robinson was the first hat-trick scorer for Ireland since Robbie Keane in 2014, and Ireland had scored three goals in consecutive games for the first time since Noel King’s temporary brief blended into Martin O’Neill’s maiden game eight years ago. 

If there is to be a definitive Stephen Kenny goal, then this may have been it. After a lengthy sequence of 38 passes pulled the Qataris this way and that, Robinson arced a run across the Qatari back three and Jeff Hendrick found the right pass, sliding the ball through at the right time for Robinson to slip the ball beneath Barsham. 

A fully-fit and confident Robinson is giving Ireland’s play a more improvisational and ultimately effective quality. 

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Minutes later it was 4-0 by more traditional means as Duffy nodded Hourihane’s corner past Barsham, then approaching the lesser-seen ‘hapless goalkeeper’ status at Lansdowne Road. 

shane-duffy-celebrates-scoring-their-fourth-goal Shane Duffy celebrates his goal. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Kenny embraced his coaching staff after each of the goals, as unified chants of his name fell from the stands.The goalscorers left to the crowd’s acclaim with 15 minutes to go, replaced by Troy Parrott and Nathan Collins, making his senior debut. 

Jeff Hendrick, whose performance deserved a goal, saw a shot fly wide of the near post as the game drew to a close. 

The opposition were tired and limited and the game was only a friendly, but take all the caveats into account and you’re still left with something unalienable and slightly thrilling…something is happening here. 

Republic of Ireland: Caoimhin Kelleher; Andrew Omobamidele, Shane Duffy (captain) (Nathan Collins, 76′) John Egan; Matt Doherty (Cyrus Christie, HT); Jeff Hendrick, Conor Hourihane (Harry Arter, 87′); Enda Stevens; Jamie McGrath (James Collins, 87′), Callum Robinson (Troy Parrott, 77;); Chiedozie Ogbene (Jason Knight, 68;)

Qatar: Meshaal Barsham; Tarek Salman, Bassam Hisham Alrawi, Abdulkarim Hassan; Pedro Miguel; Karim Boudiaf, Abdelaziz Hatim; Homam Elamin; Hasan Alhaydos (captain), Akraf Afif, Almoez Ali 

Referee: Keith Kennedy (Northern Ireland) 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from the Aviva Stadium

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