29.03.2003 at 00:00 Lokomotov Stadium, Tbilisi
1 - 2
Republic of Ireland
Referee: K. Vassaras (Greece)
European Cup Qualifier / Prog-match
Demetradze for Ketsbaia,46
Didava for Kinkladze, 70
Georgia 1 Ireland 2
The defeat of Georgia in Tbilisi was a triumph of iron will over adversity and a true reflection of Brian Kerr's qualities as leader. His signature was writ large over a performance that was a tactical and technical success despite intimidating circumstances.
It is not possible to exaggerate the extent of Kerr's contribution to an achievement that should not, in many ways, have come as a surprise. The ability of this Irish team has never been in doubt, the slump in form against Russia and Switzerland due to extraneous matters.
Kerr's input was best illustrated by the restored morale of the team. He succeeded through shrewd management and enlightened leadership to banish the negative post World Cup mood.
He did so by keeping faith with the squad who took Ireland to the Far East, in the friendly against Scotland and again here. His team selection differed not at all from the team that Mick McCarthy would have sent into battle the introduction of John O'Shea to competitive action was flagged before McCarthy stepped down.
By doing so Kerr established an immediate rapport with players who served Ireland with distinction in the recent past. Their committed performance was proof positive of their respect for, and immediate loyalty to, the new management team.
It was obvious within ten minutes that Kerr had won the hearts of these players. Their tactical alignment, highly disciplined game plan and enduring aggression was the physical manifestation of all that is good in Kerr's well-established concept of the game.
The personalised nature of his reign has been a seamless progression from his tenure in charge of Ireland's under-age squads. What was also obvious and hugely engaging was the proof that Kerr will bring his own inimitable style and an entirely new lexicon to the international scene.
Kerr is the archetypical Dublin wit, laid-back and mischievous. When he conducts his press conferences, one suspects he takes an intuitive delight in simplifying his concept of football to its most basic and interpreting it in his typical Crumlin vernacular.
One wondered, for instance, how the Georgian interpreter succeeded in explaining Kerr's appreciation of a playing surface he criticised in his own inimitable way by describing it as "mingin".
Kerr is an original and has obviously impacted positively on Ireland's squad. But underneath the self-effacing demeanour is a sharply analytical mind and a taskmaster who is adept at getting others to perform.
He explained his game-plan afterwards when he said: "We gave away nothing really. The only real scary moment was where Gary (Breen) had to make the tackle in injury time. It was a brilliant saving tackle, it was a goal-saving tackle, but other than that they never really penetrated, so they (the defence) were very good."
He summed up his reaction thus: "I am delighted for everybody. Chris Hughton, Packie and the lot of them have worked so hard in the last few days as have all the staff on the medical side and everybody just worked really, really hard to be on top of it and to ensure that the players were well prepared, well catered for and I'm delighted for them as well and for myself as well."
He explained what he had said to the players: "I reminded them of how hard the road had been for all of us to get to the pitch we are at, including everyone on the staff. We had all been scrappers, not many of us were born with great talent, that we had worked really hard and dedicated ourselves and been committed and sacrificed maybe lots of things.
"I felt they were the ones representing Ireland in this situation, that they were the elite who had got to the top of this and we were part of it in the dressing-room and I wanted to carry that out and I felt they had been a class act in the last few days since I had been with them.
"I think the staff are a class act and the people around the team, I had looked at them working and I told the players that I wanted us to play like a class act."
He described the atmosphere after the final whistle: "In the dressing-room there was a sense of joy but there was also a sense of relief that they had to work so, so, hard to get the result.
"They are very, very honest players. Sometimes in games you get what you deserve, other times you get a little bit less, and tonight I think we got what we deserved."
Ireland led after 18 minutes when Damien Duff scored with a miss-hit shot that bobbled into the net after the goalkeeper had pushed a shot from Lee Carsley onto an upright. Georgia equalised from a free kick through Kobiashvili after 61 minutes and Gary Doherty headed the winner in the 86th minute.
GEORGIA (3-5-2): Lomaia; Khizaneishvili, Shashiashvili, Amisulashvili; Tskitishvili, Nemsadze, Jamarauli, Kinkladze (Didava), Kobiashvili; Ketsbaia (Demetradze 46), Iashvili.
IRELAND (4-4-2); Given; Carr, Breen, Cunningham, O'Shea; Carsley, Holland, Kinsella, Kilbane; Doherty, Duff.
Referee: K. Vassaras (Greece).