After 17 years and 117 appearances, John O’Shea will call time on his international career when the Republic of Ireland take on the United States at the Aviva Stadium.
O’Shea’s farewell gives an added edge to a game that, on paper at least, doesn’t offer much to get the pulses racing.
An end-of-season international friendly between two countries who will be watching the World Cup from the pool bar is always going to be a tough sell but O’Shea’s contribution to the Irish cause deserves to be recognised and after Monday’s 2-0 defeat against France, Ireland need to put in a decent performance.
Despite being one of the most honoured players to even pull on the green jersey, there’s the sense that O’Shea’s efforts for Ireland have been slightly taken for granted.
This is a defender who was a mainstay in Alex Ferguson’s all-conquering Manchester United defence and who is one of the most decorated players to emerge from this country.
With a Champions League win, five Premier League medals, as well as an FA Cup, O’Shea stands alongside the likes of Roy Keane and Ronnie Whelan in terms of club honours, even if his powers have faded with advancing years.
Still the Waterford native is a player who gave everything to the Irish cause and even when it was clear that his playing time was going to be greatly reduced following the 2016 European Championship, he continued to turn up for his Ireland, offering his experience to younger members of the squad.
“I know people shower praise on someone who is just about to leave, but he has been a great influence,” O’Neill said ahead of the defender’s swansong.
“Even though just in recent times he would have less chance of playing with other players younger than he being in the side, to have him around and for him not to retire just after the Euros was particularly great for myself.
“I wanted him around at the time and his influence is there for all to see. I think that Seamus Coleman would have learned a lot from John.”
O’Shea is the last of, if not a golden generation of Irish players, then certainly a silver one. He follows Robbie Keane, Damien Duff and Shay Given out the door and O’Neill is sorely lacking players of that level and calibre.
The Irish manager’s willingness to include Shamrock Rovers forward Graham Burke in the side to face both France and the USA is to be commended but does speak to his lack of options, particularly up front.
That dearth of options was very much to the fore in Monday’s 2-0 defeat at the Stade de France with the always willing but goal-shy (and shot-shy while we’re at it) Shane Long leading the line aided by the 34-year-old Jon Walters, who finally looks like the years are catching up with him.
Long has been ruled out of the game with the US with a knee injury, opening the door for Burke to start, with O’Neill confirming that the Rovers man will definitely play some role even if it is from the bench.
A fantastic evening at the @CRISClubs Awards night! Thank you to everyone that worked so hard in organising the event! #COYBIG #COYGIG pic.twitter.com/dhKpkdTeUt
— FAIreland ⚽️🇮🇪 (@FAIreland) June 1, 2018
Whether or not Burke is named in the starting XI, O’Neill will be hoping for a much improved performance from his side after Monday’s capitulation against the French.
France are a side with genuine quality in every aspect of the pitch and when they can bring on players like Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann off the substitute’s bench, you know you’re in for a tough evening.
However the manner in which Ireland approached the game will have caused major concern for anyone who watched it, given the lack of any discernible game-plan outside of ‘kick the ball away as far as possible’.
The match was over after a first-half in which Ireland could manage just 17% of possession and their inability to string more than three passes together even prompted O’Neill to admit afterwards that it just wasn’t good enough.
Trailing 2-0 at the break and looking like a team without any kind of direction, Ireland did improve to a small extent in the second half, aided by the usual string of substitutes in a friendly which broke up the flow of the game and the awful weather conditions in Paris, but they still looked like a side without direction.
O’Neill will be aware that his side will have to be vastly improved against the USA, in what is after all, their first home game since last November’s 5-1 defeat to Denmark in the European Championship play-off.
Memories of the Danish humiliation have yet to fade, with Friday’s display against the French serving only to pick that particular scab and O’Neill is returning to play in front of a group of fans who will still have fresh memories of his recent flirtations with Stoke City.
Doubt remains in the minds of Irish supporters and a good performance is a must to help draw a line under that particular spell.
The very least that O’Neill needs to do is to give the home supporters hope for the future.
To that end giving the likes of Burke, Derrick Williams and Shaun Williams a cap is a move in the right direction and O’Neill is unfortunate to be without the injured Sean Maguire to offer some flair in attack.
However what Ireland really need to do is to hold onto the ball against the US, they need to create chances and above all, they need to give the home support a reason to cheer and get behind the team again.
If O’Neill is unable to deliver that then it’s going to be a long and frustrating wait until Ireland’s next home game against Northern Ireland in November.
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‘Dublin were awesome… the Real Madrid of football’
Longford boss Denis Connerton expressed his pride following Longford’s defeat to Dublin in the Leinster SFC semi-final, and compared the reigning All-Ireland and Leinster champions to the ‘Real Madrid of football.’
The midlanders suffered a 19-point pummelling at Croke Park, but managed to produce an encouraging performance despite playing much of the game with just 14 players.
Goalkeeper Paddy Collum pulled off a few crucial saves and scored from a ’45, while Robbie Smyth, Dessie Reynolds and Rian Brady impressed in the Longford attack.
“We knew coming into the game that it was going to be very difficult,” Connerton remarked when speaking to the Sunday Game after the final whistle.
“I’ve referred to Dublin as being the Real Madrid of football and I didn’t see anything to change my mind there today.
“It’s a team consisting of outstanding individuals and the group of them going together are awesome and difficult to deal with.”
He added that Longford needed a ‘needed a huge amount of luck’ in order to be able to compete with Dublin and that they were ‘unlucky in some aspects of the game.’
Longford’s James McGivney and Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton.
Full-forward James McGivney was issued a straight red card in the first half following an aerial challenge on goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton. It was a huge blow for the travelling side who were already trailing Dublin heavily at that point in the game.
“Dublin were awesome, they’re finishing was hugely clinical and we went down to 14 men.”
“It was a mountain to climb before that so it was just like climbing the highest mountain you could think of today so it was very difficult. But I’m proud of their efforts of our players. Our players stuck at it to the bitter end.
The ‘Real Madrid of Gaelic football’ were awesome today, says Longford boss Dennis Connerton #RTEgaa pic.twitter.com/n2AMXFs5nI
— The Sunday Game (@TheSundayGame) June 10, 2018
“We’re very disappointed leaving here, we don’t get here too often and we would have preferred to have been able to play with 15 and give a better account of ourselves.”
Connerton’s charges will be added to Pot Two for the second round draw for the All-Ireland SFC qualifiers tomorrow morning on RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland at 8.30am.
Armagh, Cavan, Kildare, Mayo, Tyrone, Offaly, Waterford and Louth are the teams on the other side of the draw who Longford could potentially face in their next outing.
Longford have built up a healthy reputation in this competition, having won nine consecutive first-round qualifier games in recent years, and will be looking to build on that record this year.
“The qualifiers is our favourite competition so we’re back in it again,” said Connerton.
“The only difference is we’re back in the second round of it, we’re normally back in it the first round. We’re taking a little step ahead of ourselves, so we just regroup.
“Our players need a bit of a breather after that, that was tough going today. It was a warm day, they’ve put a huge amount of effort into the game and they just need a little bit of time to recover and take a little time out and we’ll come back and regroup on Wednesday night.”
Leona makes highly impressive pro debut in New Jersey
Leona Maguire wrapped up her pro debut with another very solid 69 in New Jersey to sign off on eight-under-par at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
The 23-year-old Cavan woman began the day four shots off the lead after following up her opening two-under 69 with a terrific 67.
Five birdies, including one on the last, offset a couple of bogeys to give Maguire another good score and give her a highly impressive first outing with the big guns.
She finished tied 15th, eight shots off victor Annie Park.
Leona’s twin Lisa, also making her professional debut this weekend, missed the cut following rounds of 84 and 82.
The Maguires recently became the first Irish players to sign with Modest! Golf, a management company started by Mullingar pop star Niall Horan.
American Park won the title by a single shot ahead of Japan’s Sakura Yokomine.
Yokomine shot a stunning 61 to pile the pressure on but Park’s 63 was enough to edge victory, with her compatriot Marina Alex third on -14.
.@AnnieParkUSC becomes a Rolex first-time winner at the @ShopRiteLPGA Classic! pic.twitter.com/2NFBHysekt
— LPGA (@LPGA) June 10, 2018
Wallabies looking to ‘get the job done’ in Melbourne
The beauty of a three-test series is that an opening defeat isn’t fatal, but Australia are keen to put their foot on the throat of Ireland’s challenge next weekend in Melbourne.
Michael Cheika’s Wallabies made a flying start to the series with an 18-9 victory in Brisbane, outscoring the visitors by two tries to one at the Suncorp Stadium.
The Grand Slam champions struggled to make any inroads in attack, and defensively will have plenty to ponder over the coming week ahead of next weekend’s clash.
Kurtley Beale exuded class throughout the contest and the versatile back is looking for his team-mates to show a ruthless streak to end the tour as a contest.
“The series isn’t over yet and the group is fully aware of that. We enjoyed the win, but the focus quickly switches on to Melbourne next week and to try and get the job done there.
“They are the number two team in the world for a reason. I’m sure they will come up with a strategy. Likewise, we have a lot of homework to work on.”
“Ireland will come back hungrier and keen to get a result”
A great deal of focus has centered on Ireland’s inability to penetrate the Australian defence, but of equal concern is how Joe Schmidt’s side struggled, both collectively and individually, to curb the Wallabies on the front foot.
It is something that Beale took immense pride from and says was the winning of the game.
“Ireland are probably one of the best defensive teams in the world. For us to break that, and exit well was crucial for us to keep building momentum in the game and release pressure.
“I think that allowed us to get into the game. Certainly it allowed us to play the game we want to play. No doubt that needs to be continued.
“Ireland will come back hungrier and keen to get a result.”
Vettel wins in Canada to overtake Hamilton in standings
Lewis Hamilton was left to rue a Mercedes engine problem after he lost the lead of the Formula One championship to Sebastian Vettel in Canada on Sunday.
Vettel ruled from lights-to-flag at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in an emphatic display as he crossed the line ahead of Valtteri Bottas with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in third.
But Hamilton, so often the master here in Montreal, had to settle for fifth on a weekend to forget for the defending champion and his team.
The Englishman, who arrived in North America with a 14-point lead over Vettel, will now head to the next round in France trailing his Ferrari rival by one point. Daniel Ricciardo took the chequered flag in fourth ahead of Hamilton with Kimi Raikkonen sixth for Ferrari.
Unlike all of their rivals, Mercedes failed to bring a planned engine upgrade to the seventh round of the championship, and it would cost Hamilton dearly.
Hamilton, running on a seven-race-old engine, reported he was down on power in the opening exchanges, and had to pit earlier than planned as his Mercedes team added coolant to his overheating machinery.
Hamilton, fourth at the time, headed into the pit lane on lap 16 of this 70-lap race, but the early change of tyres allowed Ricciardo to usurp the Mercedes car.
Brilliant Scots stun England in thrilling ODI victory
Scotland stunned the cricketing world by beating number one-ranked England by six runs in a nerve-wracking one-day international in Edinburgh.
Having posted a massive 371 with the bat, Scotland held their nerve in the field and with the ball to clinch a thrilling game in dramatic fashion with just seven balls of the match remaining.
Safyaan Sharif was the man to clinch the victory, trapping Mark Wood leg before wicket in the penultimate over to spark wild celebrations and a pitch invasion from a tense crowd at the Grange.
After Jonny Bairstow’s earlier century, England looked like they were creeping towards victory thanks to a 71-run eighth-wicket partnership between Moeen Ali and Liam Plunkett.
However, the hosts held their nerve to pick up the remaining three wickets and an emotional victory.
It is the first time Scotland have beaten England in international cricket, and it came in their first game since being cruelly denied a place in next year’s World Cup.
Scotland were out to prove a point after the decision was made to cut down the number of participating nations from 14 to 10, making it harder for associate nations to compete and grow the game – and they showed they can compete with the best by seeing off the world’s top 50-over side in stunning fashion.
It is an embarrassing defeat for England just a year before the World Cup they have clearly set their sights on winning – but they could have no complaints after conceding 371 to Scotland, the hosts’ highest score in ODI cricket.
There was further history made with Bairstow’s century his third in a row – the first time an English batsman has done that – but his 54-ball effort was in vain as England came up short.
The target was set after Kyle Coetzer and Matthew Cross had laid the foundations with an opening partnership of 103, which set the tone for the rest of the day after being put in to bat.
The pair fell in quick succession, but that only brought Calum MacLeod to the crease and the former Durham batsman proved the mainstay throughout the innings as he smashed his seventh ODI ton.
He had support from George Munsey (55) but his unbeaten 140 from 90 balls was the standout knock of the match and proved too much for England, despite a promising start to the reply.
Jason Roy and Bairstow looked like making a mockery of the total by racing past 100 in the opening 10 overs, but once Roy fell England were unable to put together any substantial partnerships as wickets fell at regular intervals.
Bairstow was brilliant for his 105 but he holed out when he could have gone on and made the game safe, and after Alex Hales and Eoin Morgan fell in successive balls, England looked well up against it.
David Willey and Sam Billings also fell cheaply as the visitors slipped to 276 for seven, before Moeen and Plunkett combined to breath life back into the contest.
They’ll be dancing in the streets of Stockbridge tonight! #followscotland 🏴 pic.twitter.com/0TqLLxmFZh
— Cricket Scotland (@CricketScotland) June 10, 2018
They were going along at a good rate and the crowd had finally been quietened when Moeen chipped to long-off to revive Scottish hopes, then Adil Rashid was run out as nerves began to get the better of the batsmen.
Sharif then trapped Wood dead in front of the stumps to clinch an emotional victory for the Scotland players.