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Ireland Step Up A Gear

By Ade O`Connor
September 10 2003

Despite not winning the football match, Ireland put to rest any doubts that their ‘honeymoon form’ under Brian Kerr had been just that. After going ahead through a David Connolly goal, Turkey came back to lead the game, before Dunne squared the game in stoppage time, in an entertaining tie. Brian Kerr made seven changes from the Irish team that drew 1-1 with Russia at the weekend for this fixture; after losing Given, O`Shea, Cunningham and Carsley to injury, Kerr also made a couple of experimental changes.

Nick Colgan started in goal, with Andy O`Brien getting his chance to impress alongside Gary Breen at centre back. Steven Finnan and Ian Harte were given the opportunity to stake their claim for a place in Kerr’s starting XI for Switzerland on the flanks of defence.

Damien Duff played on the right wing from the start, while Kevin Kilbane looked to continue his impressive form on the left wing. Mark Kinsella was captain for the evening, partnered in midfield by Colin Healy.

Both on the bench on Saturday, Gary Doherty and David Connolly were given the nod up front, in a traditional Irish ‘big lad, little lad’ style attack.

Turkey, ranked seven in the world, put out a near full strength side, making only 4 changes to their last competitive team; they controlled the game for the first 30 minutes, showing all the class and flair they posses.

Though there were few clear cut goal scoring opportunities, Hakan Suker and Tuncay both played with purpose and looked very much a goal threat.

Alpay was causing plenty of damage with balls lofted over the top of the Irish centre backs heads, looking to find Tuncay or Hakan in behind the defence.

However, it was to be Ireland who broke the deadlock, Finnan feeding the ball to Connolly who was 40 yards out from goal. Alpay was favourite to get to the ball first, but the new West Ham striker battled and gained possession.

Making his way into the box, Alpay missed numerous opportunities to rob the ball from Connolly, but he took it inside and planted his shot into the bottom left of the goal.

Alpay must have been furious with himself, in a situation where he was always favourite to win the ball, he had been skinned by Connolly, just 10 minutes before half time.

As if his first error didn’t do the Irish enough favours, Alpay again lost the ball as he tried to usher it out for a goal kick to Gary Doherty. The Tottenham defender come striker could barely believe his luck, but did not trouble Rustu with his attempt at goal.

Ireland then won a series of corners, and looked like scoring a second, before Turkey were let off the hook by the half time break.

For two thirds of the first half, Turkey had controlled the game, and there only looked like one side in it, but thanks to some lackadaisical defending from Alpay, they had surrendered their lead, and subsequently Ireland took the initiative.

Not much surprise that Alpay did not emerge for the second half, and nor did Damien Duff – clearly Chelsea boss Ranieri wanted to give him some rest before this weekend’s fixtures, and the following Champions League games.

Steven Reid took the place of the £17m winger.

Turkey had clearly recovered from their late first half jitters and just seven minutes after the break, they were level.

Ergun needed no invitation to show off his crossing skills, and Hakan Suker completed the move by losing Gary Breen and heading home to equal the friendly.

A whole host of substitutions occurred in the second half; the highlight of all was when Rustu had to be taken off with a knee injury, to be replaced by his deputy, soon to be a crowd favourite at Lansdowne Road.

Omar Buruk (uncertain over name) was probably the funniest goalkeeper ever witnessed on the international stage. His first touch was to parry a tame cross onto his post, with his eyes shut.

Next he played Russian roulette in front of his own goal with Gary Doherty, and missed an easy catch at a corner.

Of course, by now the crowd had taken to the comedy keeper, cheering his every touch. Some may wonder if he squirted water at the interview after the game, and got into his car, only to have the doors fall off.

Sadly, Buruk was replaced before Ireland could get a decent shot on goal at him; it may be safe to say that his international career has come to an end.

As if all that fun was not enough for the viewing public, there was still a game to be had.

Richard Dunne and the rest of the Irish defence went to sleep in the 86th minute, as a beautiful ball through to Okan Yilmaz looked to have given Turkey the spoils late on.

Into stoppage time, Stephen McPhail forced a corner. Despite all shouts of hand ball, Dunne waiting for the ball to drop from it’s predicament on a Turkish back only to volley it with a perfect technique.

With just seconds left on the clock, Turkey surged forward one last time, and were unlucky to have a goal ruled offside. Television replays showed that Dunne was playing the Turkish on.

The final whistle blew shortly after, with Ireland managing a good draw against a star studded Turkey side, 2-2.

After the game, Kerr reflected on the improvement in his team’s performance, and the impressive man of the match display from David Connolly – who must now be in his thinking for the vital qualifier against Switzerland.

Indeed, David Connolly certainly was a star on that night, never giving up, chasing the ball and putting away his only real chance of the game, Connolly did himself proud. Particularly impressive was his tracking back to the midfield, helping Ireland win the ball in difficult circumstances.

However, given a lengthy period of time up front, Gary Doherty is clearly not a long-term solution up front. Without criticising the excellent job that Doherty has done for Ireland, on many occasions his touch was lacking and decision making poor. Whilst he held the ball up well, it would be unfair to ask him to perform more than a fill in role up front.

Kevin Kilbane continued in his rich vein of form, seemingly having no bounds to his confidence and for that matter, his ability. Going past Turkish players like they were not even there, and getting involved all over the pitch – his move to Everton has really revitalised him.

It is now hard to imagine the Irish team without Kilbane on the left wing. Admittedly I have been one of his bigger critics in the past, but when a player turns in performances like that, it does tend to force-feed the media a sizable section of humble pie.

Mark Kinsella had a good game in the middle of the park; his experience may be the answer for the Swiss game. While Healy showed more of his promised ability, with match fitness seemingly being his biggest issue.

Finnan also was impressive at right back, but it is hard to envisage anyone eclipsing the monumental Steve Carr. Finnan switching to left back for the closing minutes may be a sign of things to come.

Ian Harte definitely held his own in defence, and seemed assured, putting himself back into the fold after a period of absense. While Andy O`Brien did not have a poor game, there is no call to include him in the starting team just yet.

Nick Colgan was not in a position to make much of a save all evening, distribution certainly seems to be an issue however; balls being kicked into touch and wasted on numerous occasions.

Joe Murphy came on to make his international debut between the posts, and despite almost falling victim to a cruel rickashé, encountered no serious tests.

Overall, Ireland is back on track again, and can go into the Swiss game with some degree of confidence. Turkey are definitely a better side than Switzerland, Ireland will have every chance of winning in Bern.

On Wednesday night, Russia face up to Switzerland in a game which will go a long way to deciding how Group 10 will be decided. Kerr was meant to travel to the game, but a delay in his flight meant he was unlikely to be in Moscow in time for kick off, hence pulling out of the trip.

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