02.06.2004 at 19:45 The Valley, London
0 - 1
Republic of Ireland
Referee: R Styles
Rep of Ireland 1 Jamaica 0
Statto Debut for Martin Rowlands
Graham Barrett scored his second international goal, Ireland returned to winning ways, and Aiden McGeady, the Celtic wonderkid, made his debut in Ireland's final Unity Cup match at the Valley last night.McGeady's international bow only lasted eight minutes, the ball spent most of that time in the Irish half, but judging by the crowd's reaction, this was what most supporters had been waiting for since Saturday night.
The teenager only had around four touches, showed one lovely piece of skill, and that was that. Rob Styles blew his whistle, draping a curtain over this year's forgettable Unity Cup.
The attendance was recorded at 6,155, which meant over 50,000 tickets went unsold for the entire tournament. Still, at least, we got to see a far more encouraging Irish performance than the tired display against Nigeria. And Barrett score another goal. That was especially encouraging because Clinton Morrison had another of those evenings in a green shirt that strikers shrug their shoulders and lament it wasn't their night. Morrison is becoming a better overall footballer, but it appears to come with the cost of his finishing instinct that first alerted people to his talent.
Alongside Alan Lee, there was too much similarity in Ireland up front, plenty of huff and puff with little of the cutting edge.
The edge was provided by Andy Reid. Until he was taken off in the 75th minute, Reid once again offered the kind of guile that makes you optimistic when you stare into the future of Irish football. Indeed, there were plenty of fine Irish displays.
Until Barrett's goal, however, Paddy Kenny was having a fairly busy night on his first international start.
He made a couple of clean catches, although decent Irish defending restricted Jamaica to shots outside the box. Not that this meant they didn't threaten Kenny. Marlon King, once a prospective Irish international, and Garfield Reid both going close with 25-yard drives.
However, when a 25-yard shot did hit the net, it was from an Irish boot. Barrett has a tradition of spectacular goals, although Jamaican goalkeeping deficiencies helped his left-footed shot nestle in the right corner. Barrett seized on a slack Damien Stewart clearance, and snapped a first time shot past the static Jamaican keeper.
Nerves had eaten into Donovan Ricketts' night as early as the 7th minute, when he flapped nervously at Andy Reid's cross. Barrett headed the ball back across goal, towards Clinton Morrison, but the Birmingham City striker, unchallenged, could only head against the under-side of the bar, the ball rebounding into Ricketts' arms.
Nine minutes after his first glaring miss, Morrison was released by John O'Shea, out-sprinted Ian Goodison but his meek shot was easily parried by Ricketts. In the 35th minute, Reid swung a perfect low cross into Morrison's feet, but the striker was too slow to react, when all he needed to do was direct the ball goalward.
Reid was outstanding, by far Ireland's most potent threat. At times last night, it was difficult to believe this was only his seventh international, such was his comfort and confidence with the ball at his feet. As Ireland's most creative force, sometimes his class showed up his team-mates. Not only could Morrison have had a hat-trick by half-time because of his ingenuity, but in the 20th minute, Reid swept a lovely ball into the box with Irish players out-numbering Jamaican defenders. The ball was cleared.
The Valley's surface became more and more cut up as the game went on. Irish fans broke into song, you know the one, to keep themselves entertained but were almost shocked into silence when Deon Burton met a corner in the 72nd minute, only for Clive Clarke to head clear on the goal-line. Clarke, who appeared for John O'Shea in the second half, gave another competent display.
Like O'Shea, whom Alex Ferguson sees ultimately as a midfielder, Clarke is a versatile player. The bulk of his later part of this season was spent marshalling Stoke City's midfield.
Martin Rowlands came on for his third cap, and while he was industrious, he showed very little from what he displayed the first two games. Rowlands will be playing in Division 1 next season. For the time being, Alan Quinn is a second division player. Loyalty to a club is one thing, but Quinn's talent needs a higher stage than the second division.
Jamaica seemed to suffer from a second game in three days as the match wore on.
Hard to know what Kerr is going to take from the Unity Cup, apart from a conviction never to participate in this tournament again. Perhaps, he will chalk it down as experience, as a few days blooding players that mightn't necessarily feature until further down the road. At least, the team are winning again.
IRELAND: Kenny; O'Shea (Clarke h-t), O'Brien, Doherty, Maybury; Reid, Kinsella, Quinn (Holland 82), Barrett (Rowlands 77); Morrison, Lee (McGeady 82)
JAMAICA: Ricketts; Reid, Goodison, Stewart, Neil; Hyde, Davis, Chin-Sue (Langley 66), King (Dobson 87); Burton (Bernard 82), Lisbie (Johnson 60)
Ref: R Styles
Another international start and yet more experience garnered for some of his younger players. Brian Kerr could afford a smile or two after Ireland beat Jamaica 1-0 last night.“It was a good night’s work, some more of the younger players got a chance to establish themselves, we won again after losing to Nigeria. I think that was important, that we got back to winning ways because we haven’t lost too many matches.”
Martin Rowlands, who entered Lansdowne Road last Thursday evening as an uncapped player, made his third appearance for Ireland. There was the much-anticipated debut of Aidan McGeady and another notch for Clive Clarke. Kerr said these games were all about giving players a chance.
“This will be a good thing for the players in the long run. Sometimes, players can be knocking around for a while and start thinking they are never gonna get a chance. With these games, they all got a chance and I thought some of the players did very well.
“The structure of the team was good, we passed the ball well, created a few chances. It is hard, with the games coming on top of each other like that, we started with a squad of 26, now that is down to 21. It is not what we wanted, but we have to make do with what we have,” he said.
Andy Reid’s performance shone brightest. Almost everything creative came from him. Gary Doherty and Andy O’Brien were a decent pairing. Alan Quinn and Alan Lee showed a lot of fight. Clinton Morrison mightn’t remember it as his best display for Ireland, but Kerr thought he did okay: “I thought Clinton did what he had to do. He had a decent game. Maybe in the second half, he dropped a little deeper than we wanted him to, but maybe that was because his confidence dropped a little after not scoring one of those chances in the first half, but he always works hard for us.”
And Kerr had the luxury of resting some of his bigger names with Amsterdam in mind. “We were able to rest a lot of players, guys like Robbie, Stevie Finnan, Matt, Kenny, all of them have got to come back in for the Holland game,” the manager said.
“This has been an experience for most of the young lads, having so many games on top of each other, but that is what it is like when you play major tournaments... two wins in three games over six days isn’t bad.”
Mark Kinsella, captain at his old haunting ground, won’t be travelling to Amsterdam. He is taking a few weeks off, looking for a club after being released by West Brom.
“It was good to get that game, because when I joined the squad, I wasn’t as sharp as some of the other players. And the last couple of games have been good, Brian has learnt a lot about some of the younger players, if you look at the way Reidy played tonight, it was like in the team for years,” Kinsella said
The next test will be the biggest of the four end-of-season exams. Holland in the Amsterdam Arena. Kerr said: “We know that it is going to be tough. But these are the sort of games you want. It will be a hot night in Amsterdam for the team, tough and we mightn’t win it, but we will learn some more about ourselves.”