Scotland salvaged a draw with the Republic of Ireland in the Amateur international friendly played at the splendid setting of Cooke Park, Tipperary Town last Saturday night.
On what was another historic night for soccer in the county four local players participated in this friendly, part of the build-up towards the upcoming UEFA Regions Cup qualifiers. Ireland, who made history in June 2011 by winning silver medals in the World’s top amateur tournament, will not be playing their qualifiers until next March against San Marino (the hosts), England and Northern Ireland, while the Scots will be visiting the Czech Republic for their qualifiers at the end of the month. This was an opportunity for Irish boss Gerry Smith to give several fringe players the chance to impress.
International Amateur/Junior skipper since 2006, James ‘Chalky’ Walsh, who was breaking his own record by moving onto 71 appearances, led out the Irish team that included Paul Breen (making his 41st appearance) and substitutes Christopher Higgins (on his sixth appearance) and debutant Jimmy Carr.
The players were presented to the various dignitaries from the FAI and Scottish FA before the CJ Kickhams Band from Tipperary town played ‘Flower of Scotland’ and Amhran na bhFiann to appreciative applause from the good-sized attendance. The officials were referee John Hadnett and his assistants John Maguire, John Walsh and John Teehan, all from the Tipperary Branch of the Irish Soccer Referees Society.
In a very competitive opening 45 minutes on an ideal night for football, Ireland applied the early pressure and should have been at least three goals ahead before eventually taking the lead after 33 minutes. Adam Foley collected the ball on the edge of the Scots penalty area and his first time effort found the opposite corner of the net. However just before half-time Scotland levelled when a flowing move from defence split the normally reliable Irish defence and Ian Diack applied the finish from just outside the six-yard box.
The second half was a stop-start affair with both sides taking the opportunity to try out several players. These included Christopher Higgins, who had played alongside James Walsh seven days earlier in Spain, and debutant Jimmy Carr, who were introduced at half-time. It meant that up to the 60th minute – when Paul Breen was withdrawn - there were four TSDL and St. Michael’s players on the pitch. This last happened in 2004, the year James Walsh made his debut, along with Paul Tobin, Davy Ryan and Kevin O’Sullivan in Finland. The Irish management team also used the services of Kevin O’Sullivan as goalkeeper coach for this game.
Well done to all concerned on the staging of this game, which once again proved that playing such games in the provinces instead of Dublin is a worthwhile exercise. Special thanks to Dick Hennessy and his team from the Knights of Malta and many others too numerous to mention. It was also nice to see the Scottish squad using Danny O’Dwyer Park in Solohead, the home of St. Nicholas AFC as their training base, which shows how facilities in rural areas have developed over the past number of years. It’s hoped that we will not have to wait another six years to see more high profile games in Tipperary.