Belfast Telegraph

Martin O'Neill salutes Republic of Ireland resilience but is forced to deny interest in the Hull hotseat

By Damian Spellman

Martin O'Neill was once again left to marvel at the Republic of Ireland's resilience as they came from behind in Serbia to open their World Cup qualifying account with a hard-earned point, while he also denied his interest in the Hull City job.

Substitute Daryl Murphy's 80th-minute header ensured the Republic left the Rajko Mitic Stadium with a 2-2 draw on a night when their fortunes soared, then dipped before ultimately turning once again.

Jeff Hendrick fired the Republic into a third-minute lead, but Filip Kostic's equaliser and Dusan Tadic's penalty looked to have won the day until Murphy struck, like Hendrick, with the first goal of his senior international career.

But had substitute Andrija Pavlovic not wasted a golden opportunity to make it 3-1, or had Darren Randolph and Seamus Coleman not combined to deny Branislav Ivanovic a last-gasp winner, they might have emerged empty-handed.

But they kept going and although it was not pretty at times, they got there in the end.

"Naturally, we got off to a fantastic start early on in the game, I suppose before all the players from Serbia had touched the ball," O'Neill said.

"We scored a goal and I thought we were fine at half-time. Obviously, they got a lot of possession, particularly in the second half because we couldn't get the ball off them.

"They were fine, they were knocking it around, but we were in no serious danger at that stage. Then they score and they get a penalty, so we have come roaring back.

"We had one disallowed - it must have been very, very close - Shane Long made the goalkeeper make a great save and eventually, Daryl Murphy comes up with a blinding header and a point that we deserved."

O'Neill was particularly pleased for Newcastle striker Murphy, whose first Irish goal arrived on his 24th appearance.

He said: "It's very, very important for him. He's come in and he's been a very strong header and it's a great equalising goal for us, so he will take great confidence from that.

"I'm delighted for him and obviously delighted for the team."

The Ulsterman has been linked with the vacant manager's role at Hull City in recent weeks, but despite the rumours he insists he is happy with the national team and that he will be staying with them for the foreseeable future.

"I don't think anything of that," O'Neill said when he was asked about it following the game in Belgrade.

"There will be no hiccups with my contract, I should imagine we've got it sorted. In fact, we've shaken hands on a deal some time ago."

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