Conor Hourihane's ace ensures a happy homecoming for Mick McCarthy

A free-kick from the Aston Villa midfielder was enough to see off Georgia tonight in Dublin.

Republic of Ireland 1
Georgia 0

Paul Dollery reports from Aviva Stadium

THE REPUBLIC OF Ireland have started their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with back-to-back victories.

Three days after an unconvincing 1-0 win away to Gibraltar, Conor Hourihane’s first international goal was the highlight of a much-improved performance as the Boys in Green saw off the challenge of Georgia tonight in Dublin.

Conor Hourihane celebrates scoring his sides first goal from a free kick Conor Hourihane celebrates after scoring. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Corkman, who was winning his 10th senior cap, found the net with a delightfully executed free-kick to put his side in the ascendancy in the 35th minute. The strike ensured that Ireland have taken maximum yield from this double header of qualifiers.

Seventeen years since his first reign as manager was ended by a defeat to Switzerland, Mick McCarthy was patrolling the Lansdowne Road touchline once again as Ireland sought to prevent a fourth consecutive home game without a win — or even a goal.

Off-the-field matters — particularly those relating to FAI governance — dominated the build-up to this game. A rumoured protest materialised just before Ireland went in front, when the game was held up briefly due to tennis balls being launched onto the pitch from a handful of supporters among the 40,317 in attendance.

Mick McCarthy admitted that starting with both Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty on the right flank “didn’t work particularly well” in Saturday’s win against Gibraltar. When the teams were announced this evening, it emerged that Doherty was the sacrificial lamb from that failed experiment.

Despite being one of the stars of his club’s Premier League campaign, the Wolverhampton Wanderers man was demoted to the bench for his country. He was joined there by Sean Maguire, who made his first competitive start in Gibraltar.

inpho_01525158 Ireland manager Mick McCarthy pictured before kick-off. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Four months since he bid what was ultimately a faux farewell to international football, Glenn Whelan was drafted in for his first competitive start in a green shirt since the draw with tonight’s opposition in Tbilisi in September 2017. Robbie Brady was the other beneficiary from McCarthy’s two changes.

Man-of-the-match David McGoldrick acted as the offensive focal point, with Brady and James McClean providing support from the wings. Jeff Hendrick was the most advanced operator in a three-man midfield which was also manned by Whelan and Hourihane.

Georgia manager Vladimir Weiss made three adjustments to the side that started their qualifying campaign with a 2-0 home defeat to Switzerland on Saturday. Their most notable absentee again was the injured Giorgi Chakvetadze, a 19-year-old attacking midfielder who has notched five goals in his seven senior international outings thus far.

At the risk of being guilty of hyperbole, Ireland arguably produced their most encouraging period of attacking football since Euro 2016 in the opening quarter. 

After Hendrick won possession with a good tackle, Hourihane capitalised and bore down on goal. Releasing the unmarked Brady to his right may have been a better option, but the Aston Villa midfielder backed himself instead, only to see his shot pushed away for a corner by Georgia goalkeeper Giorgi Loria.

Balls Tennis balls scattered across the Aviva Stadium pitch. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

With Hendrick and Whelan prospering in midfield, Ireland threatened on several occasions inside the opening 20 minutes. Brady and McGoldrick both had decent efforts but were unable to test Loria.

The visitors had to wait until the 26th minute for their first sight of goal. Valerian Gvilia floated in a corner that found the head of Giorgi Kvilitaia, whose header was swept off the line by Whelan. Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph appeared to have it covered in any case, although some slight confusion between the pair may well have proven costly.

The opening goal arrived 10 minutes before the interval. After Guram Kashia was penalised for a foul on McGoldrick, the taking of the free-kick was delayed as tennis balls littered the pitch. However, the interruption clearly didn’t irk Hourihane, who curled a superb left-footed effort around the Georgian wall to beat Loria to his right.

Ireland were worthy of their half-time advantage, but they were almost robbed of it just before the break. After Solomon Kverkvelia’s ball into the box was knocked down by Otar Kiteishvili, it fell kindly for Gvilia. His strike was well saved by Randolph, before Enda Stevens and James McClean combined to prevent Kvilitaia from pouncing on the rebound.

Twelve minutes into the second half, Ireland had the ball in the net following a magnificent passage of play, which ended with Stevens squaring the ball for Hendrick. Unfortunately for the Burnley midfielder, he was marginally offside when he tucked the ball into an empty net from close range.

DM Ireland's David McGoldrick is fouled by Guram Kashia of Georgia. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Georgia caused a couple of nervy moments for the Irish rearguard in their pursuit of an equaliser, particularly with just five minutes remaining when captain Jaba Kankava struck the outside of Darren Randolph’s post with a scintillating strike from distance.

Nevertheless, a second goal in this game looked more likely to come at the other end. The two Sheffield United men in Mick McCarthy’s starting line-up came closest to providing it.

Shortly after Enda Stevens fired wide with his weaker right foot, James McClean released David McGoldrick with a long ball. The striker managed to take the ball beyond goalkeeper Loria, but his touch was too heavy for him to make it count.

Ireland’s failure to double their advantage made the conclusion of this contest more tense than it perhaps should have been, but Conor Hourihane’s strike was ultimately enough to accomplish the mission.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Darren Randolph; Seamus Coleman (c), Shane Duffy, Richard Keogh, Enda Stevens; Glenn Whelan, Conor Hourihane; Robbie Brady (Aiden O’Brien, 74), Jeff Hendrick, James McClean; David McGoldrick (Matt Doherty, 82).

GEORGIA: Giorgi Loria; Otar Kakabadze (Tornike Okriashvili, 85), Solomon Kverkvelia, Guram Kashia, Davit Khocholava (Levan Kharabadze, 65); Nika Kvekveskiri, Jaba Kankava (c); Vato Arveladze (Valeri Qazaishvili, 73), Valerian Gvilia, Otar Kiteishvili; Giorgi Kvilitaia.

Referee: Serdar Gözübüyük (Netherlands). 

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Paul Dollery

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