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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019
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A harsh but valuable footballing lesson as Ireland picked apart by gold medal favourites

It was a humbling first taste of Paralympic action for Barry Ferguson’s side.

Image: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE

Ireland 0
Ukraine 6

– Ryan Bailey reports from Deodoro Stadium, Rio de Janeiro

THIS WAS NEVER going to be a straightforward assignment for Ireland’s footballers on their first Paralympic appearance but by the end it was a damage limitation exercise.

Even still, there was no stemming the tide as a classy, and ruthless, Ukrainian outfit — the only professional team in the 7-a-side competition — flexed their muscles by recording an emphatic victory in Deodoro.

Apart from experiencing playing in the Games for the first time, it’s hard to know what Barry Ferguson’s side can take, if anything, from a game they were ruthlessly outclassed in from start to finish.

And with fixtures against hosts Brazil and Great Britain to come in Group A, Ireland must surely now reconsider their approach or else face the prospect of further chastening results.

“We’ll analyse the goals later on, I think there’s two or three of those goals where people weren’t asked to do certain things and they scored from it but other than that you’ve just got to hold your hand up and they were better than us on the day,” Ferguson said afterwards.

Rio 2016 Paralympic Games - Day 1 Source: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE

Rio 2016 Paralympic Games - Day 1 Source: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE

“They’re a good side, they’ll win the gold medal. They’re just really good players, they’re full-time footballers, they’re at it every day and you can tell. They’re better than us, end of story.”

It must be said that the draw was incredibly harsh but it’s a real pity that, on a stage they worked so hard to reach, they were unable to even settle into the contest as it passed them by.

The pattern of the game resembled an attack versus defence training session but once Ireland’s early resistance was broken, heads dropped and they retreated deeper and deeper.

It allowed Ukraine, the number one ranked side and silver medallists from four years, to carve them apart at will in front of a small, but noisy, crowd inside Rio’s Deodoro Stadium.

The large Irish following, many of whom were parents, siblings and grandparents of those involved, were given little to cheer but the introduction of striker Dillon Sheridan at least offered an outlet, as he tested the opposition goalkeeper for the first, and only, time in the game.

Rio 2016 Paralympic Games - Day 1 Source: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE

Rio 2016 Paralympic Games - Day 1 Source: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE

From the moment Vitalii Romanchuk fired home at the near post after 12 minutes there was an inevitability about what was to come. The gulf in class was frightening, although perfectly understandable when professionals are pitted against part-timers.

And, believe it or not, it could have been worse had it not been for Ukraine’s tendency to try their luck from range instead of stretching Ireland’s flagging rearguard. They soon copped it and the goals followed.

Captain Volodymyr Antoniuk clinically dispatched two past the helpless Aaron Tier, who was subjected to an endless barrage of efforts on his goal. To keep it to six, and just two after the break, was an achievement.

A humbling first taste of Paralympic football for this group and it’s unlikely to get much easier with Brazil up next on Saturday.

IRELAND: Aaron Tier, Joseph Markey, Conor Tuite, Luke Evans (captain), Gary Messett, Ryan Nolan, Carl McKee.

Subs: Brian McGillivary, Eric O’Flaherty, Ryan Walker, Dillon Sheridan, Tomiwa Badun, Peter Cotter, Cormac Birt.

UKRAINE: Kostiantyn Symashko, Vitaliy Trushev, Taras Dutko, Vitali Romanchuk, Dmytro Molodstsov, Volodymyr Antoniuk (captain), Artem Krasylnykov.

Subs: Yevhen Zinoviev, Oleh Len, Edhar Kahramanian, Ivan Dotsenko, Stanislav Podolyski, Bohdan Kulynych, Ivan Shkvarlo.

Referee: Alexandre Santos (Brazil).

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The Paralympic Games takes place between 7 and 18 September. Follow The42′s coverage from Rio here.

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Ryan Bailey

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