Football: Duff is toast of winter warm-up

FEBRUARY HAS never been an ideal month for the home countries to play full internationals, which is why Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all opted out of any engagement this week.

Bad weather, poor pitches and heavy club commitments tend to diminish the enthusiasm of players and supporters alike, leading to disappointing attendance by both.

On the other hand, managers are aware that international football's mid- winter break is already longer, at three or four months, than the traditional close season, and they can be desperate to bring their charges together again.

Inviting a second-rate Paraguay side to leave high summer at home for a frozen fixture in western Europe was hardly a recipe for excitement. Such is the continually astonishing spirit of football in the Republic of Ireland, however, that on a bitter Dublin night a crowd of almost 28,000 turned out to watch their heroes at Lansdowne Road. Only one player (Steve Staunton) had pulled out of the full strength squad selected, while Mark Kinsella and Kenny Cunningham, rival captains in Monday night's Premiership game between Charlton and Wimbledon, flew from London to join their team- mates on the training ground the following day.

A year ago, having been knocked out of the World Cup by Belgium in a play-off, not even the Irish bothered to arrange a February match. This time Mick McCarthy needed a warm-up (in everything bar the meteorological sense) for next month's important away game against Macedonia in a European Championship group in which four countries - those two plus Yugoslavia and Croatia - now share the lead with two wins apiece.

Against a Paraguay team just about strong enough to make for a meaningful contest, a 2-0 victory was probably the minimum requirement and that was duly achieved. If the goals, a penalty by Denis Irwin and a deflection off David Connolly's thigh, were scruffy, the Irish reaped enough benefits to make the whole exercise worthwhile.

Seventeen players had a run-out, without unduly affecting the team's essential cohesion and as long as there are no serious injuries, the squad for Macedonia will pick itself. A number of members, notably the whole midfield quartet of Jason McAteer, Roy Keane, Kinsella and Damien Duff, enhanced already burgeoning reputations with Blackburn's Duff emerging by general consent as man of the match.

Pundits like John Giles and Mark Lawrenson had identified the diffident young man as one who needed a convincing international performance and "Duffer" proved to be anything but.

"He was confident enough to run at players and beat them," McCarthy said. "I asked him and Jason how many good crosses they could get in.

"It certainly helps when you've got the same players together and I was pleased with their commitment to training and their attitude on the pitch. Perhaps that team [Paraguay] coming here two years ago might have given us problems."

Macedonia still might in a very different sort of game on 27 March, but the Irish will be all the better prepared.

Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before