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Dublin: 7ยฐC Sunday 18 April 2021


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Hello! And welcome to our minute-by-minute coverage of tonight’s international friendly between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Friendlies can be a tough slog at the best of times, but there are more than enough eligibility-related talking points to make tonight’s game an interesting affair.

There is a long and fascinating history in matches between Ireland and Northern Ireland down the years, both north and south of the border. Unlike in 1993 however, a place at the World Cup is not up for grabs at the Aviva tonight.

A view of the Aviva Stadium ahead of the game Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

A friendly is a friendly, and with Uefa Nations League and crucial Euro 2020 qualifiers on the horizon next year, there is plenty up for grabs for Martin O’Neill’s men at Lansdowne Road.

This is the 11th time the two sides have met, and just the second ever friendly. There have been some classics between Euro qualifiers in the late 1970s and World Cup qualifiers a decade later en route to Italia 90 between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Kick-off is coming up in just over an hour at 7.45pm — here’s hoping it’s one to remember!

Let’s get started with the team news…

So, today’s teams will line out as:

IRELAND: Darren Randolph, Seamus Coleman, John Egan, Shane Duffy, Darragh Lenihan, James McClean, Glenn Whelan (captain), Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick, Callum O’Dowda, Callum Robinson. 

Subs: Colin Doyle, Caoimhín Kelleher, Cyrus Christie, Shaun Williams, Sean Maguire, Enda Stevens, Ronan Curtis, Conor Hourihane, Scott Hogan, Michael Obafemi, Kevin Long, Harry Arter.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Jamal Lewis, Jonny Evans, George Saville, Steven Davis (captain), Liam Boyce, Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Gavin Whyte, Craig Cathcart, Michael Smith. 

Subs: Michael McGovern, Conor Hazard, Conor McLaughlin, Gareth McAuley, Niall McGinn, Kyle Lafferty, Shane Ferguson, Jordan Jones, Paddy McNair, Aaron Hughes, Jamie Ward, Josh Magennis.

The last time these sides met, the location was a recently-completed Aviva Stadium in the now completely forgotten Nations Cup. Ah, the Nations Cup — and people say Ireland have never won anything at international level…

That meeting saw Giovanni Trapattoni’s men come out on top 5-0 in front on a sparse crowd. Since then both sides have suffered some lows but reached mutual highs as well — both sets of supporters creating unforgettable memories in France during that magical summer of Euro 2016.

Another 5-0 drubbing is unlikely tonight, and bridging that gap over the last six years is down to the brilliant work done by manager Michael O’Neill at Windsor Park over recent times.

Robbie Keane with the trophy Ireland beat Northern Ireland 5-0 in May 2011 en route to the Nations Cup. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The former Shamrock Rovers man has worked miracles in charge of the North and has brought them all the way up to 34th in the Fifa World Rankings.

His side are just one place below Martin O’Neill’s, with Ireland sitting 33rd in the world. If the standings alone are anything to go on, tonight should be a tight affair.

As with most friendlies, we aren’t anticipating an absolute classic. Still, there’s always hope. Worst comes to worst, we can always lose ourselves in a spell of nostalgia, remembering the good times when Robbie Keane hoisted the Nations Cup high in the air.

Some pre-game reading ahead of kick-off:

Right, with half an hour to go before kick-off, how do we see tonight’s game unfolding? Let us know below!

Poll Results:

Ireland win (439)
Draw (379)
Northern Ireland win (89)

Today is also significant as it is the last time we will see Glenn Whelan in an Ireland shirt. Well, kind of. This friendly has been built up as a swansong of sorts for the Dubliner, with the midfielder captaining the side on his 85th appearance for his country.

Speaking on a rare appearance in front of the media this week, Whelan explained that he accepted this would all but likely be his last appearance for Ireland, but that he wasn’t retiring from international football — saying that he would always be available should the call come again in the future.

Source: dinadangdong/YouTube

At 34-years-old, that call will likely not come again, therefore tonight’s game giving the Irish public a chance to give the Clondalkin man his due for a long and established career for Ireland over the last decade.

A player that has always divided opinion, you cannot deny Whelan’s loyalty to the cause for his country, always putting in his best and establishing a long and successful career as a Premier League footballer in the most demanding league in world football.

That goal against Italy will not be soon forgotten by anyone.


It’s a 3-5-2 from Martin O’Neill tonight: Darragh Lenihan, Shane Duffy and John Egan at the back with Caullm O’Dowda as a second striker behind Callum Robinson. It’s been an engaged opening spell with both sides looking to get on the ball and go forward. Usually these friendlies are quite lax affairs, but there is a bit of bite to this already early doors.


A decent move forward by Ireland is started by John Egan getting on the ball smartly. Callum Robinson is picked out on the edge of the area — the Preston forward has an ambitious go at goal, but his left-footed effort is blocked wide for a corner.

Martin O’Neill Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO


Close again from Martin O’Neill’s side. Callum O’Dowda dashes behind Jamal Lewis and is clean through on goal — he picks out James McClean to tap into an empty net… but O’Dowda is flagged for being offside. Almost, but no breakthrough.


It’s a really poor turnout at the Aviva for tonight’s game, with the stadium more than half empty it seems. Despite the low attendance there is still a decent atmosphere inside the ground — both sets of supporters in fine voice, especially when James McClean is in possession. Northern Ireland fans offer boos and whistles, before the home supporters duly respond with cheers to back the Derry winger.

James McClean and Michael Smith Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO


Save! Darren Randolph to the rescue for Ireland as Gavin Whyte found himself clean through on goal in a crucial one-on-one situation. Liam Boyce did all the leg-work running forward for the North, however Whyte’s effort just didn’t match — Randolph coming from his line to deny by spreading himself.


A nasty clash of heads between Seamus Coleman and Liam Boyce sees both players require medical attention. The Everton defender comes back on after being assessed by the Irish medical team, with Boyce getting bandaged up before being sent back into battle. Both players are given the green light to continue.

Liam Boyce after colliding with Seamus Coleman Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO


Chance! Shane Duffy almost gives Ireland the lead after 21 minutes. It’s a brilliant delivery from Robbie Brady, who puts the ball right into the path of the Brighton defender. Duffy does everything right — the run, the jump, evading his marker — but his header goes right down into the ground and bounces back up over the crossbar. Fun fact: yesterday it was the one year anniversary of his goal against Denmark. But let’s not talk about how that ended…


Yep, there is definitely a bit of bite to this. Jeff Hendrick bundles into George Saville right on the edge of the box — a cynical foul than anything else to deny the midfielder a chance to shoot at goal. Captain Steven Davis lines up the free from 20 yards, but his effort is deflected off Shane Duffy and away for a corner.

Callum Robinson with George Saville Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO


It’s been a lively opening half an hour to this game, with as many fouls against one another as chances on goal. There is a competitive edge to this game, even though it is only a friendly. All that said, Martin O’Neill’s men have been guilty of being quite sloppy so far — easily giving away possession unnecessarily in dangerous positions. Callum Robinson has also been just a bit isolated up front so far, struggling to get on the ball and work the magic he has shown this season at Deep Dale with Preston.



Bailey Peacock-Farrell called into action again in goal for Northern Ireland. Once again Ireland’s best form of attack comes via a set-piece — a carbon copy of Shane Duffy’s earlier header as the centre back heads on target from close range from a floated free-kick into the box. The header had plenty of power behind it, but it was right at Peacock-Farrell and easily caught by the goalkeeper.


The Aviva breaks into a round of applause as Glenn Whelan is substituted off and Conor Hourihane comes on. It is all but likely the Dubliner’s final appearance for Ireland and he applauds the crowd to show his appreciation. That respect is mutual, as the crowd chant his name as he exits the field of play — 85 caps, Ireland’s most capped midfielder. A nice moment for the Aston Villa man who makes his international bow.

Glenn Whelan with his son Jack Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO


Five minutes to go before half-time, with a pair of headers for Ireland at one end and Gavin Whyte’s chance brilliantly saved by Darren Randolph at the other the closest either side has come to breaking the deadlock.  It’s been nippy, tetchy and closely-fought, but still no goals.


Randolph saves again, and that’s two decent stops from the Bray man now. He dives quickly to his left as Stuart Dallas lets fly from distance. The winger was closed down, but managed to get his effort off just in time. His shot was aimed low and hard at the bottom corner, but Randolph was equal to it to keep his clean sheet in tact.

Glenn Whelan acknowledges the crowd as he is replaced Source: James Crombie/INPHO


George Saville with another effort as Michael O’Neill’s men start to take a bit of control of this game. He shoots from distance, but his effort flies well and truly over the crossbar to the sarcastic jeers of the home fans. 


There will be two minutes of stoppage time to come at the end of the first half.


Well, what did we make of that? Goals in short supply but there were more than a handful of chances at each end, and plenty of tasty challenges too. Glenn Whelan’s international bow was the biggest talking point from that opening 45 minutes. After 85 caps, he received a warm send-off for his service in the green shirt from the Aviva faithful. More action to come shortly!


One switch from Martin O’Neill at half-time. Making his first senior international appearance, on comes Portsmouth striker Ronan Curtis in place of Callum O’Dowda. The former Derry City striker has been in electric form since moving to Fratton Park over the summer. In fact, the 22-year-old was named Man of the Match on his FA Cup debut last weekend — definitely one to keep an eye on!

Ronan Curtis Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO


A quick corner routine from the visitors sees captain Steven Davis picked out on the edge of the box. He tries his best Glenn Whelan impression against Italy, but instead of smashing the back of the net the Southampton midfielder curls his shot over the crossbar. Not as easy as it looks, it seems.


A very promising attack from Ireland. Callum Robinson picks up the ball in a pocket of space just past the halfway line — he picks out the run of substitute Ronan Curtis, but the pass is just slightly overhit and goes wide.

That said, it does seem like Robinson and Curtis are keen to actually get attacks moving in the final third. They are showing a willingness to show for the ball and not simply wait for it to come to them, instead making runs behind enemy lines and causing trouble. A bit more urgency

Callum Robinson with George Saville Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO


Some background reading on Ronan Curtis. Fun-fact: he’s former Wales manager Chris Coleman’s Godson!


Close again from Ireland. James McClean missed a couple of chances in the first half and is very involved again after the interval. He takes possession just inside the penalty area after some excellent forward running from Seamus Coleman. McClean shoots on goal, but his shot is touched on once more by Callum Robsinson — who’s effort curls over the crossbar. A lot better from Ireland.

James McClean with Gavin Whyte Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO


Coleman goes down inside the box following another attack down that righthand side. He appeals for a penalty, but Slovenian referre Slavko Vinčić says it’s no foul and instead calls for a goal kick. 

A pair of switches from Michael O’Neill as Jordan Jones replaces Gavin Whyte and Paddy McNair comes on in place of Corry Evans.

For Ireland, James McClean is replaced by Enda Stevens while Sean Maguire comes on off the bench for his Preston team-mate Callum Robinson. It wouldn’t be a friendly without lots of lots of lots of substitutions now would it?

Martin O’Neill Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO


Close! Michael Smith almost scrambles Northern Ireland ahead as panic ensues inside the Ireland box. A cross into the penalty area is not dealt with properly by Shane Duffy, with Darren Randolph doing really well to punch the ball clear as everybody rushed to get something to it. A hairy moment there, to say the least.


SAVE! Oh my goodness, another superb save from Darren Randlolph! The Bray man is having some game out there and is just about keeping Ireland in this. A calamitous error from Darragh Lenihan gives Jordan Jones the chance to run clean through on goal. With a free strike on goal and no-one but Randolph in his way, the goalkeeper comes out on top with a brilliant stop — diving low to his left and diverting the ball wide from Jones’ strike.

Darren Randolph saves a shot from Jordan Jones Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO


It’s really end-to-end now as time and space begins to open up. Substitute Paddy McNair drives Northern Ireland on with a brilliant run through midfield, before a host of intricate passes sees his side through on goal. It was Barcelona-esque passing right up the pitch, but the final pass was just short for captain Steven Davis to have a strike at goal as Ireland escape untouched.


Just over 31,000 supporters in attendance for tonight’s friendly.


After just 13 minutes of play, second-half substitute Sean Maguire is replaced after picking up an injury. The Preston man is replaced by Aston Villa’s Scott Hogan off the bench for the final spell.


A good move forward form Ireland as the minutes tick on late in the game. Robbie Brady picks out the run of the recently-introduced Cyrus Christie, who’s promising cross is blocked away for a corner. Ireland still pushing on for a winner with five minutes to go.


Very little going on late on here. There was plenty of action throughout, more than enough bite and chances at goal, but now the match really has reverted to that friendly-type of slow play, quiet atmosphere and nothing really going on. The game is slowly but surely petering out — we’ve seen this one before many, many times.

Enda Stevens with Jamie Ward Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO


Darren Randolph is announced as tonight’s Man of the Match, and rightly bloody so. The goalkeeper has been absoutely immense all throughout, making key saves in both halves on a night when Ireland could have been comfortably beaten at home.


There will be four minutes of stoppage time to come at the end of the second half.

Well, there we have it — we certainly won’t be getting those 90 minutes of our lives back. But to be fair, it wasn’t all bad. No goals by any means, but a decent spate of chances and more than our fair share of brilliant saves from Darren Randolph to enjoy.

You cannot avoid the fact that were the Bray man not in such excellent form tonight, Martin O’Neill’s men could quite easily have been beaten at home.

It’s now 10 games in a row without a win for Ireland, with a tricky Uefa Nations League clash away to Denmark coming on Monday night before we look forward to Euro 2020 qualifiers next year.

Thanks a million for joining us for the ride tonight — you can read Paul Fennessy’s player ratings here and you can also enjoy Paul Dollery’s match report from Lansdowne Road here. Cya!

Seamus Coleman with Jamal Lewis Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

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About the author:

Aaron Gallagher


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