Ireland were pegged back late by Poland but curtailed their recent downslide in tonight’s friendly.
IT MIGHT HAVE been no more significant than the typical non-competitive tripe, but there was certainly a collective curiosity as to how Ireland would fare in Wroclaw this evening given the five days which had preceded tonight’s friendly.
What we learned from Ireland’s 1-1 draw was that our curiosity was largely misplaced, but also that in debut goalscorer Aiden O’Brien the under-fire Martin O’Neill does possess within his ranks a regularly-playing striker who is at least sprightly enough to jump and head the ball.
Though you couldn’t read too much into the fact that the assembled side seemed to evince a type of unity — there was only the residual imprint of a regular team, here, and instead it was comprised largely of players with points to prove and bows to make — Ireland were at least organised until Mateusz Klich drew the home side level late on.
There wasn’t much of a storm to weather on the field either, though: in a low-tempo affair, Poland, who kept Robert Lewandowski on the bench for the game’s entirety, showed some bluster here and there, but never truly threatened to blow down O’Neill’s house of cards.
For starters, try to imagine the first half of a meaningless September fixture between Poland and Ireland… Done? You are, of course, 100% correct.
There were two moments of note: early doors, Ireland’s defenders were caught less at sixes and sevens, more six or seven miles down the road as the ball landed upon the head of Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik who frankly could have claimed squatter’s rights so unchallenged was his occupation of the Irish box.
His header, however, was so definite in its inaccuracy that it closer resembled a clearance than an attempt on goal.
There was another scare later in the half when a ball was driven in from the edge of the area by Marcin Kaminski but skewed comfortably wide off the heel of the unsuspecting Grzegorz Krychowiak.
That brought us to the sanctity of half-time. Oh, thank you, half-time.
The first eight minutes after the restart were a bit livelier, and as was the case two Cardiff trips ago, Ireland’s first moment of quality produced the lead goal.
It was the debutant, Aiden O’Brien, who guided a tidy header past Wojciech Szczęsny, but Callum O’Dowda is due his share of credit for separating himself from Arkadiusz Reca with a neat touch inside before curling a sumptuous cross onto the 24-year-old’s bonce.
The Millwall striker was visibly made up to have gotten off the mark in his international curtain-raiser, and in truth, his headed finish contained the type of nuance that Ireland have lacked up top for the better part of three years.
Inspired by his role in the goal, O’Dowda grew into the second half, finding more space through the middle and firing six feet over with a well-struck tester some two minutes after Poland brought it back to halfway.
Karol Linetty of Sampdoria did similar for the Poles moments before Graham Burke was introduced for Callum Robinson, the former Shamrock Rovers star pulling on the green jersey for a third time at senior level.
Given the mood Roy Keane has been in lately, we can probably consider ourselves fortunate that the first audible chorus of The Fields of Athenry from the visiting contingent arrived with Ireland still a goal to the good.
It preceded a worrying flashback to a more recent debacle, however, when replacement Damian Kadzior was shown inside onto his stronger left foot only for his effort to dribble into the arms of Randolph.
Old habits die hard, and Ireland duly retired entirely into their own half for the remainder. Dinamo Zagreb winger Kadzior caused a small bit of bother, but it seemed there was no true Polish barrage incoming.
It seemed testament to Ireland’s defence that, on 83 minutes, Mateusz Klich manufactured some room to manoeuvre but faced by a wall of green shirts he lashed a lazy effort north of Randolph’s bar.
But the Leeds United man made amends three minutes later, displaying nice control in the box to collect a return ball from Milik, placing the ball beautifully past the outstretched arm of Randolph into the Bray man’s left-hand corner.
Ireland were immediately rendered ragged as the hosts smelled blood.
A minute after the restart, Kadzior again cut inside and planted a delicious ball onto the penalty spot but it evaded the extended toe of Przemyslaw Frankowski by what seemed like millimetres.
Perhaps had the stakes included relegation into further European footballing obscurity they might have hammered down on the accelerator, but after just over 94 minutes both sides struck as utterly content to park it there as the final whistle sounded.
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