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Collins wonder-goal lights up Ireland's thrilling draw with Ukraine

Collins scored an exceptional goal as Ireland were held 1-1 in the Polish city of Lodz.

Collins celebrates his stunning goal.
Collins celebrates his stunning goal.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ukraine 1

Republic of Ireland 1

ANOTHER SPIN ON the classic 1-1 result, with Nathan Collins morphing into Franz Beckenbauer to give Ireland a lead they lost early in the second half and spent all they had in an effort to reclaim it. This was a fabulous game, and one in which a greatly weakened Ireland ended their four-game window on a high to ease their relegation fears and make ludicrous any opportunistic speculation about their manager’s position. 

Ukraine, deracinated by war, picked the Polish city of Lodz as their home venue on the word of manager Oleksandr Petrakov, as it was in this city he led Ukraine to success at the U20 World Cup three years ago. The stadium is newly-built and just shy of 10,000 Ukraine fans filled it tonight, each waving their nation’s flag. 

Uefa Nations League football in the middle of June seems a neat summary of international football’s excess fat to many but the rituals before this game accentuated its importance. Stephen Kenny has spoken of the fact these games perform a vital role in keeping the war to the forefront of people’s minds, but seeing thousands of Ukraine flags dotted around the stadium and the giant Ukraine shirt in the centre-circle, featuring a map of the Ukraine’s full borders drawn in the middle of it, served to remind the world of the settled and agreed fact of Ukraine. It was a discrete if powerful riposte to the barbarous regime now killing to have those borders erased. 

Ireland arrived into the game with their defence depleted and with Shane Duffy and John Egan absent, Dara O’Shea returned while Darragh Lenihan made his competitive debut, and first appearance since November 2018. It left Ireland with a somewhat callow team: James McClean captained the side and came into the game with 93 caps while his 10 team-mates had 110 caps between them.

With Duffy suspended, Nathan Collins shifted across to the centre of Ireland’s three-man defence and…well, it’s fair to say he did alright. His many talents were on show in isolation from each other from the off: his challenges flawless, his reading of the game impeccable, his passing crisp, his aggression out of possession and calmness on it richly contrasting. 

And then all of these disparate talents melded together in a jaw-dropping moment in the 31st-minute. He read Mykola Shaparenko’s mistake before Shaparenko even made it, charging from his own half to intercept a loose pass intended for striker Atrem Dovbyk and then set on his slaloming way from the edge of the centre-circle, Clodoaldo-style. 

First he beat Oleksander Zinchenko and then Serhiy Sydorchuk, before a swish switch of feet bamboozled Illia Zabarnyi teed the ball up nicely in the penalty area. And in a final flourish of extravagance and glorious gratuity, he arced the ball around goalkeeper Dmytro Riznyk and into the net. It was arguably the greatest goal Ireland have scored since…Saturday.

The days in which the FAI had to pad out the ‘International Goal of the Year’ award with goals scored at underage level just to make a shortlist are happily now gone.

The goal encapsulated Collins’ range of talents but it was also a vindication of his manager’s boldness. Collins stepped up to win the ball with almost all of his team-mates behind the ball having been caught on the counter-attack, and had he missed it, Ireland’s chances of conceding would have been higher than if he had simply stood off. But nothing ventured is nothing gained, and it brought to mind Kenny’s comments after the 2-2 draw with Belgium in March. 

“We don’t want to be in a low block playing against them. It’s a slow death. We’re not having that, we don’t want that.”

The goal crowned a preppy Irish first-half performance, rich in spikiness and energy with the midfield trio of Josh Cullen, Jason Knight and Jayson Molumby retained from the win over Scotland. Ireland were pilfering possession before Collins’ star turn, and when Knight did earlier and found Troy Parrott unmarked at the back post, the striker should have done better than plant his header wide of the post.  

ukraine-stand-for-the-national-anthem Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ireland could not restrict Ukraine to nothing in the first half, and twice Kelleher was forced into action, first pushing away a Malinovskyi shot and later denying Mykolenko in the penalty area, after Alan Browne was caught out by a raking ball in behind him. Browne, to his credit, recovered to deal with the rebound. 

It took Collins’ getting beaten in the air for the first time for Ukraine to level. It was a fabulous, devastating move. Dovbyk got ahead of Collins and laid off a long ball for Zinchenko, who immediately switched play to the right flank to Yarmolenko, who took the ball to the endline and calmly rolled it across to Dovbyk, unmarked at the back post from a yard out. The Irish analytical inquest on the goal will focus on why Dovbyk was left so totally alone.  

Then tempers frayed: Ukraine snarled and Ireland snarled back. Molumby, Knight, Cullen, Zinchenko and Yarmolenko threw themselves into challenges in midfield as the referee didn’t let the game flow as much as he it let it cascade. Yarmolenko was eventually lucky to escape with just a yellow card for a scythe at Cullen’s achilles. 

Ukraine’s upped the tempo and Kenny’s first move was to swap the toiling Hogan for Callum Robinson, but his hold-up play was scantly better and Ireland’s midfield was flagging and beginning to be overwhelmed. Mykolenko darted down the left and dragged a cross across the Irish goal, while Browne was booked for fouling Shaparenko as he drove towards the box. Again it was Collins who strode tallest as Ireland defended their box, shirking off Zinchenko in the box with nonchalance and then throwing himself at a Dovbyk shot from the edge of the box. 

Kenny, often maligned for in-game management, wrested control back by swapping Knight and Molumby for Jeff Hendrick and Conor Hourihane. From there it was a tale of narrow margins: Hourihane wasted a slick attacking move with a tame cross from the left, Hendrick was close twice to sending Robinson and then Parrott one-on-one. The gam was ludicrously stretched, veering madly from end-to-end: Darragh Lenihan took a hilariously obvious booking deep in the Ukraine half when an Irish attack broke down. 

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ireland-fans The Irish fans at the end of the game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Kenny happily leaned into the chaos by Chiedozie Ogbene, and a better cut-back  by Robinson would have allowed him score late on. Ireland diced with defeat at the end, allowing Mykhailo Mudryk run the length of the field and into the box before he was eventually denied by a coalition of lunging Irish defenders. 

It finished 1-1, ending Ireland’s joint-longest run without their characteristic result in more than four years. 

The Irish players broke away to salute their fans, while the Ukraine players gathered on the centre circle, facing all corners of the ground and conducting their displaced supporters with applause. 

Another night of defiance for Ukraine, which Ireland also made utterly thrilling. 

Ukraine: Dmytro Riznyk; Oleksandr Karavaev, Illia Zabarnyi, Mykola Matviyenko (Denis Popov, 72′) , Vitaly Mykolenko; Ruslan Malinovksy (Mykhailo Mudryk, 28′), Serhiy Sydorchuk, Oleksandr Zinchenko; Andriy Yarmolenko (captain), Artem Dovbyk (Danylo Sikan, 72′), Mykola Shaparenko 

Republic of Ireland: Caoimhín Kelleher; Darragh Lenihan, Nathan Collins, Dara O’Shea; Alan Browne; Josh Cullen, Jayson Molumby (Jeff Hendrick, 67′), Jason Knight (Conor Hourihane, 67′); James McClean (captain); Troy Parrott (Chiedozie Ogbene, 80′), Scott Hogan (Callum Robinson, 56′)

Referee: Ali Palabiyik (Turkey)

Attendance: 10,641

About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from the LKS Stadium, Lodz, Poland

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