Ireland's Ollie O'Neill celebrates scoring with his teammates Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Late Late Show

Ireland's matchwinner revels in a special night at Tallaght Stadium

18-year-old Ollie O’Neill came off the bench to earn his side a victory in dramatic fashion.

LAST UPDATE | 17 Nov 2021

A DRAW simply would not have been good enough.

Following the disappointing loss to Italy on Friday, manager Jim Crawford admitted Tuesday’s Ireland U21s game against Sweden was a must-win encounter as they sought to keep their Euros qualification hopes alive.

With seconds remaining, the match was scoreless.

One of the youngest players in the squad, 18-year-old Ollie O’Neill, had been introduced in the 84th minute.

The youngster, who signed his first professional contract with Fulham last year, did not have long to make an impact, yet he won the game in the most dramatic of circumstances.

The referee was on the verge of blowing the final whistle. The Ireland players knew the match was about to end and with it, any realistic hope of progression.

Yet the composure in highly pressurised circumstances was impressive. Firstly, from midfielder Conor Coventry, whose defence-splitting pass set up O’Neill, and then from the teenager, who cut inside on his right foot and drilled an unstoppable low shot past the goalkeeper with what was literally the last kick of the game.

The home fans were ecstatic and if Ireland do qualify, it will be remembered as a pivotal moment in the campaign.

Even if he goes on to fulfil his potential and has a long and successful career in the game, it’s hard to imagine O’Neill will have many more memorable finishes to a match than last night.

“I knew it was late because I saw the board going up, and Brian [Maher] came running all the way from the goal shouting ‘It’s over lads, it’s over,’ O’Neill said afterwards. “I thought I was going to have to go back to defend the kick-off.

“I don’t think there was anything going through my head. I think I heard the noise of the crowd and everyone thought I should hit it on my left and then there was dip in noise as I cut inside like everyone was holding their breath. But I was calm, calmer than most people here because I heard everyone screaming. When I hit it, it goes like that when it hits the back of the net — bliss.”

Can he describe the feeling of being central to such a dramatic moment?

“If I could, I’d be richer. It’s euphoria, isn’t it? It’s a rush.”

And the Fulham youngster admitted the goal was crucial to ensuring the Irish team remain in with a chance of qualifying from the group — the win means they trail leaders Sweden by four points with a game in hand.

“We needed the three points really. Mathematically we’d be in it with a draw but really it mightn’t be enough as we’d probably be going head to head with Sweden. It depends on results but we knew we needed a win to stay in the hunt rather than clutching at straws.”

O’Neill was an unused sub during Friday’s game with Italy and only made his U21s debut against Montenegro last month.

He previously represented the Boys in Green at U16 and U17 level and grew up in Ealing, London, but has family from Galway and Kerry.

“I spent every summer in Galway more or less. I’m going to Galway for Christmas actually. I’ll be back here in a month. So six weeks every summer I stayed with my grandparents, and time in Kerry and Waterford as well.”

And was he surprised to be called up by the Ireland 21s rather than the 19s, who he is still eligible for?

“No. I believe I’m good enough to be here. Delighted with the call-up but I’ve no doubts about my ability to be here.” 

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