20.08.2002 at 19:00 Helsinki
The accelerating conveyor belt speeding talented youngsters into the adult international sphere was evident in Helsinki last night where several newcomers to U21 football excelled in an encouraging win over Finland.Ireland had to wait until the 90th minute for their winning goal, but it was just reward for an enterprising performance and well worth the admission fee on its own.
Goalkeeper Joe Murphy threw a clearance to the feet of Wesley Houlihan ten yards inside Ireland’s half. He fired quickly a pass beyond the defence to release Jonathan Daly, and the big striker finished with aplomb, flicking the ball past the goalkeeper from 15 yards.
Houlihan’s part was significant, the Shelbourne winger was outstanding on his debut at this level. He is a natural left-footer and sparkled on the right wing in the first half, before switching to work his magic on the left.
It is much too soon to consider Houlihan in terms of the senior team, for he is light of frame still. More substantial figures like Liam Miller (Celtic), Jim Goodwin (Stockport), Clifford Byrne (Sunderland) and the polished Paul Tierney (Manchester United) are the ones who came into this bracket.
Match-winner Daly (Stockport) is not long out of youths’ football and he showed his scoring potential with a delightful finish. More experienced strikers Graham Barrett (Arsenal) and Ben Burgess (Stockport) showed plenty of appetite for work but they did not display his composure in front of goal.
Ireland had to compensate for the absence of several injured players but the performance was welcome after Ireland had played dismally in a tournament in Toulon in which they finished tenth of ten.
Coach Don Givens looked ahead to the Championship game against Russia and claimed his team deserved victory.
“We got what we deserved,” Givens said.
“Maybe we could have finished a bit better, and our play in the last third might have been sharper, but overall, it was a very satisfying performance,” he said.
“At this level, results are not everything and I would have been pleased with a 0-0, but that goal makes it a very satisfying evening.”
Givens offered particular praise for Houlihan, while Clifford Byrne and Dwayne Matthis also warranted special mention on an evening when the visitors restricted Finland’s chances, though hardly creating many either.
“In recent times, our problem has been conceding goals, so I sat Dwayne in front of the back four and he did an excellent job.
“He does his job, then hands on to someone else and he just kept it simple. For his debut, Wes Houlihan was fantastic, and to say we lost three of our starting line-up through injury and other call-ups, we did really well.
“We were all disappointed in Toulon, where too many of our important players were below form, but this is a talented group, technically very good, and we showed that. If we can get everybody fit and get players like Thomas Butler back, then we’ll be in good shape to play Russia.”
FINLAND (4-4-2): Fredrikson (Rahkamaa 46); Luoma, Nyman (Sauso 46), Lindstrom (Myntti 64), Pulkkinen; Haarala, Lagerblom, Okkonen (Parviainen 60), Innanen (Haapaniemi 87); Scheweleff (Mahlakaarto 83), Sjolund (Makela 64).
IRELAND (4-4-2): Murphy; S. Byrne (Shelly 63), Goodwin (McGuinness 46), C. Byrne, Tierney; Houlihan, Matthis (M. Doyle 75), Miller, Keane (Gamble 63); Barrett (R. Doyle 46), Burgess (Daly 70).