Republic of Ireland 2-2 Croatia
Vincent Butler’s career as international manager came to an end today in a pulsating encounter at the Gradisca Tournament when Croatia equalised three minutes into injury-time to deny the Irish a place in the semi-finals.
Leicester’s Shane Byrne struck two second half goals to put the Irish into the driving seat only for Croatia’s Ivan Aleksic to break Irish hearts at the death.
Having managed the side for four years in the 1970s and 1980s, Vincent Butler returned to the fold in 1996 and has been in charge of the U15s and U16s for the last 12 years during which he has seen 19 players go on to become full internationals while 79 have been capped at U21 level.
The Irish went into today’s game knowing that only a victory would guarantee them a place in the semi-finals and they got off to the worst possible start when Croatia opened the scoring after 14 minutes when Marko Livaja cleverly got on the end of a cross from the right hand side and poked the ball past Niall Burdon from six yards.
The Irish responded with their first goal after 42 minutes when Shane Byrne collected the ball from the left side of midfield and he made a clever run around a Croatian defender and hammered the ball home from 12 yards.
Byrne doubled his tally in the 49th minute when volleyed a cross from the right wing and his effort flew past Oliver Zelenika in Croatia’s goal from seven yards out. Ireland were dominating their Croatian counterparts with an impressive performance and with one foot in the semi-finals, Croatia’s Ivan Aleksic stepped up and claimed his side’s second goal with 15 seconds remaining in the match.
Despite not reaching the semi-finals of the Gradisca Tournament, Butler was very impressed with his sides performance, “Obviously, I am a little disappointed with the result as I felt that this was a game that we should have won. The team worked brilliantly together today and they cannot be faulted on their performance.
"We were a little worried after recent defeats to Portugal, Spain and France but the lads really stepped up to the mark to prove that they are a great side. We have had a very harsh winter, with many of our players unable to train or play matches for up to six weeks, this has obviously had a negative impact but I am delighted to finish this season on such a positive note,” he said.
“The nature in which we conceded the goal was heart-breaking for the lads, we played terrific football and to concede so late in the game with no time to go in search of a winner was disappointing.
"The team are naturally dejected but I am certain that they will be ready to step up the U17 set-up next year as much stronger players. All the teams at this tournament except Ireland are full time professionals and to be able to compete with these teams for three days in a row is magnificent. The players really blossomed this week and they deserved more from this tournament,” said Butler.
Last year, Vincent Butler announced that he would retire after the 2008/09 season and he now hands over the reins to John Morling, who has already started work managing this season’s U15 group.
“A year ago, I announced my intention to retire at the end of this season and I have been helping John (Morling) settle into his new role with the Under-15s. John will continue with his current Under-15 squad into next season and I’ll be available if he needs any additional support,” added Butler.
Niall Burdon - Stade Rennais
Conor Morrissey - Bohemians
Robert Maloney - St. Joesphs
Richard Bryan - Aston Villa
Neil Yadolahi - St.Kevins
Shane Byrne - Leicester City
Carl McHugh - Dungloe Town
John O'Sullivan - Belvedere
Derrick Williams - Aston Villa
Gary Merritt - Milford Utd
Daniel Mahon – Belvedere
Sean McDermott - Vagg FC
Anthony Forde - Ballingarry
Daniel McGuinness - Crumlin Utd
Adam Pigott - Kingdom Boys
Michael Baker - Belvedere
Brian McGroary - Eany Celtic
Chris Lyons – Belvedere (on for O’Sullivan, 51 mins)
Under-16 Gradisca Tournament results
Saturday, April 25
Republic of Ireland 1-1 Mexico
Sunday, April 26
Republic of Ireland 0-2 Serbia
Monday, April 27
Republic of Ireland 2-2 Croatia