THE promise of Mick McCarthy's youngsters gave hope of a brighter future for the Republic of Ireland as they held the World Cup finalists Mexico in Dublin yesterday.
The exciting talents of the Wolves striker Robbie Keane and the Blackburn winger Damien Duff were on display in Ireland's last friendly before the Euro 2000 qualifying campaign starts in September. They both did more than enough to suggest that the Irish fans can once more look forward to renewed success, after the disappointment of missing out in the last two major tournaments.
"I thought there were some very good individual performances and one or two players certainly made their point," McCarthy, the Irish manager, said. "It was a good performance by the team as a whole. We created chances and didn't give them too many."
For a team with their World Cup opener less than three weeks away, the Mexicans showed little in the way of an attacking threat, as the Irish swarmed at them from the kick-off. The 17-year-old Keane was given a second full start up front alongside David Connolly, with Duff out wide on the left. Both were quick to make their mark early on with some smart runs.
The sizeable Lansdowne Road crowd warmed to their efforts as Everton's midfielder Gareth Farrelly got in on the act, his thumping 25-yard volley forcing the veteran goalkeeper Jorge Campos into action.
After a sluggish opening half-hour, the Mexicans gradually gained a foothold in the match, one flowing move ending with Alberto Garcia Aspe firing narrowly over Shay Given's bar. Then Luis Hernandez wastefully sent two shots wide.
Early in the second half the Leeds midfielder Gary Kelly blotted his copybook on his first match as the Irish captain, following his opposite number Garcia Aspe into referee John Ashman's notebook after a rash late challenge once the whistle had already gone for a foul on Farrelly.
The fluency of the Irish play in the first half disappeared as tempers flared on both sides, the Mexican midfielder Ramon Ramirez coming off worse from a challenge on Derby's Lee Carsley that earned him a yellow card as he was carried off.
His replacement, Ricardo Pelaez, then wasted the best chance of the match on the hour, Given doing well to block his effort as the Mexican raced clear on goal.
It was Keane who almost won it for the Irish with nine minutes left. Latching on to a long ball out of defence from Curtis Fleming, the teenager tried to curl his effort past Campos with the outside of his right foot, but unfortunately for him it went inches the wrong side of the left-hand post.Reuse content