Belfast Telegraph

Aiden McGeady's moment of magic gets Republic of Ireland off to a flier in Euro 2016

By Staff Reporter

Aiden McGeady was the hero as the Republic of Ireland launched their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign with a dramatic victory in Georgia.

The Everton winger struck twice, the second of them in the 90th minute, to clinch a 2-1 win at the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena in Tbilisi and earn the plaudits of both manager Martin O'Neill and skipper Robbie Keane.

O'Neill said: "He was the only player on the field that was scoring the goal. He really is a fantastic talent.

"He probably thinks at this age he should have been up there with the very finest players. He has that talent and he showed that tonight."

Long-time team-mate Keane was equally effusive after seeing McGeady, who had opened the scoring with 24 minutes gone, snatch the points at the death after turning on the edge of the penalty area and curling a delicious shot past substitute keeper Roin Kvashvadze.

Keane said: "If you score a goal like that, you deserve to win the game. If anyone else did that, the top players in the world, you would be talking about it for a long time.

"The turn, the touch, the finish – only he could do that. No-one else on that field would have been able to do that."

McGeady, who played under O'Neill during his time as Celtic manager, had scored only three goals in his previous 69 appearances for his country.

His double in Tbilisi in his manager's first competitive game – he also scored in the 62-year-old's first friendly against Latvia in November last year – increased his relatively meagre tally significantly, and the second of them proved priceless.

McGeady was applauded back into the away dressing room after conducting a series of interviews following the final whistle and admitted he did not know what to do with himself.

He said: "I'd been doing a few interviews outside while the manager was talking to the team about the game. I was a bit awkward when it happened, I didn't know how to react really. It was nice."

Asked about his decisive strike, he added: "The second goal was all about concentrating on my touch. I had my back to the goal, I just thought I'd try something. It came off for me.

"It doesn't happen very often for me, but thankfully it went in."

McGeady's 24th-minute strike gave the Republic an early advantage which was cancelled out in spectacular style by Tornike Okriashvili seven minutes before half-time.

The game looked to be heading for a draw until the Everton midfielder spun and delivered the denouement to send the small band of travelling supporters into raptures.

O'Neill said: "We scored a goal, got a goal in front and we were at our most comfortable when they equalised.

"It changed the complexion and momentum of the game. There was moments in the second half when it might have been worrying for us, but we've seen it through.

"I think there's improvement in the team – we've won away from home, which is terrific – but there's definitely improvement in the team."

For Georgia boss Temuri Ketsbaia, a sixth successive defeat by the Republic proved hard to accept.

He said: "Ireland's second goal was the only moment of quality in the second half. Perhaps a draw would have been a fair result and left both teams happy.

"Our performance is not what we want to see and we definitely want to see better games and results. We have limitations in the team and in Georgian football in general – that is the reality.

"We cannot fault the players' effort and they stuck to task for 99% of the time, but Ireland have 25 players who play at the top level with most in the Premier League."

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