Belfast Telegraph

McCarthy has brought Irish fighting spirit back: Duffy

 

On top: Shane Duffy led the celebrations after Conor Hourihane’s goal
On top: Shane Duffy led the celebrations after Conor Hourihane’s goal
Darren Randolph

By Damian Spellman

Shane Duffy hailed a job well done after helping the Republic of Ireland to launch their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a maximum haul of six points.

Mick McCarthy's side followed up their scratchy 1-0 win in Gibraltar on Saturday with victory by the same scoreline over Georgia at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday evening as the returning manager emerged with the two victories he craved from his first assignment back in the job.

It was far from perfect - the Republic were decidedly ordinary in difficult conditions at the Victoria Stadium in their opening fixture - but they beat the Georgians for the ninth time in 10 meetings with a sense of endeavour which was sadly lacking during the latter days of Martin O'Neill's reign.

Brighton defender Duffy said: "We can only do what's in front of us. We've taken care of our first two games. No one really remembers the performances once you've got the win.

"It's a good start and now we can build on it. All of us are looking forward to coming back again. It's a fresh start for everyone.

"The players have got a new lift here and you could see that in some of the performances, which were superb. Exciting times, hopefully."

Victory was secured by Conor Hourihane's 39th-minute free-kick, which came after the game had been stopped briefly while dozens of tennis balls, thrown onto the pitch in a protest against outgoing Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney, were removed.

That was scant reward for a good team performance and, although Georgia skipper Jaba Kankava hit a post five minutes from time, McCarthy was upbeat after the final whistle.

Duffy said: "He was just delighted. He wanted the Irish fighting spirit back and I think that's what we showed.

"Obviously we were under the cosh a little bit in the second half, but we stuck in there and ground it out in the end. I think we were the better team."

Duffy admitted the tennis-ball incident had added a further dimension to the game, but with he and his team-mates having been forewarned about the possibility, they took it in their stride.

He said: "It was a bit weird. I think we all sort of expected it to happen. We all read about it.

"We were hoping it wasn't going to happen, but we're professionals, we dealt with it and the best response was to put the ball in the net, which is what we did. That got the crowd going again.

"Everyone reads social media and newspapers these days. It happened. The fans have their opinions and rightly so. All we have to do is take care of our business on the pitch and hopefully it can distract them from whatever is going on."

Keeper Darren Randolph, who made a fine first-half save to deny Valerian Gvilia an equaliser, was happy the Republic had given the fans something to shout about after a dismal 2018.

Randolph said: "I don't think the fans ever stopped supporting us. They probably got frustrated about some of the performances or results.

"We wanted to get off to a good start, and they backed us and stuck with us through the whole game.

"Obviously it's the start we wanted. These were two games we wanted to take maximum points from."

Glenn Whelan, who made a shock return to international duty after appearing to have been retired by previous boss O'Neill following November's goalless draw with Northern Ireland, reflected: "The two games were banana skins a little bit.

"Gibraltar was a tough game with the conditions, but it's two wins, two clean sheets and it gives us something to build on.

"We'll definitely come back in the summer with a little bit of confidence. The last 12 months have been a little bit difficult, but hopefully we've got the fans back on side a little bit by giving them something to shout about."

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