04.09.1998 at 19:00 Buckley Park, Kilkenny
Referee: Pascal Garibian (France)
European Qualifier / PROG-match
Ten-man Irish earn vital point
Republic of Ireland 2 Croatia 2
Ten man Ireland were just ten minutes away from winning their opening U-21 European Championship qualifying tie with Croatia at Buckley Park in Kilkenny last night.
The visitors snatched a dramatic second equaliser just ten minutes from the end of a highly entertaining game that drew a crowd of close on 4,500.
Manager Ian Evans was reasonably happy with the outcome after Manchester City's Barry Conlon was sent off just before the interval on a night when the Irish twice led.
Ireland made the perfect start when Conlon fired them into the lead after just two minutes with a low, left-foot drive when Grimsby's Darryl Clare played him in after the ball rebounded off a Croatian defender.
Midway through impressive full-back Robert Ryan from Millwall made a clearing header from under his own crossbar as the Croats stepped up the pressure in search of an equaliser.
And Croatia had genuine claims for a penalty on 28 minutes when Carrickmacross-born Conlon appeared to handle the ball inside the box.
Alex O'Reilly, a member of Brian Kerr's U-18 team in Cyprus, had a busy night between the posts and he was called into action when he dived to save from Igor Biscan on the half hour.
Ireland were close to a second goal when Alan Mahon's diving header from Niall Inman's cross carried just outside the near post before Ireland were reduced to ten men when Conlon was red carded for an elbow on Croatian defender Branuo Hucika after they clashed in the box going for a low cross from Kilbane.
That was just before the interval and in added time in the first half O'Reilly again saved the Irish when he parried a stinging drive from Ivan Leko and team skipper Dave Worrell cleared up the loose ball. Kilbane's skills shone through again early in the second half when he tried to chip the keeper from a narrow angle after Clare's beautiful pass inside the full-back set him up.
Croatia had been threatening to score for some time and made their numerical advantage tell just 13 minutes after the break when striker Goran Tomic turned in the box and scored with a low drive.
Ten-man Ireland hit back, though, to go ahead 2-1 inside two minutes with the goal of the night. Inman's 60th minute corner was flicked on at the near post by Clare for substitute Stephen Baker of Middlesbrough to volley home in a crowded goalmouth.
He had only been on the field ten minutes after replacing Tranmere's Alan Mahon in a double substitution. The other change saw Ross D'arcy come in for Cork's Derek Coughlan, who had an excellent first half on his international debut at this age level.
Croatia, however, poached an away point when Tomo Sauota scored a soft goal in the 80th minute.
IRELAND: O'Reilly (West Ham); Boxall (Brentford), Worrell (Blackburn) capt, Coughlan (Cork City), Ryan (Millwall); Inman (Peterbrough), Morgan (St. Pat's), Mahon (Tranmere), Kilbane (WBA); Clare (Grimsby), Conlon (Man City).
Subs: Baker (Middlesbrough) for Mahon and D'arcy (Spurs) for Coughlan (both 50), Folan (Crystal Palace) for Boxall (86).
CROATIA: Cavlina; Berdi, Seric, Biscan, Smoje, Hucika, Pilipovic, Vezic, Sauota, Leko, Tomic. Subs: Kouacevic for Vezic (h-t), Balaban for Berdi (67).
Referee: Pascal Garibian (France).