Cork soccer stars shone for Ireland despite cruel Ronaldo winner in Portugal

John Egan hit the net and Adam Idah was immense up front in 2-1 loss
Cork soccer stars shone for Ireland despite cruel Ronaldo winner in Portugal

Ireland's Adam Idah had a great game for Ireland away to Portugal, even in defeat. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

THE scenes at full time said it all. The Republic of Ireland were heartbroken, shattered, and defeated. Portugal were jubilant, euphoric, and relieved.

The Portuguese had snatched an undeserved win from the jaws of defeat, all thanks to their history maker; Cristiano Ronaldo.

It was far from a typically stellar display from the Manchester United forward nor his side, who are 39 places above Ireland in the FIFA world rankings.

But nobody will remember that from a night where he scored two trademark headers in the final few minutes to turn their game against a resilient Irish side on its head.

They were his 110th and 111th goals for his country and they saw him climb above Iran's Ali Daei as the all-time top scorer in international football history.

But it said a lot about the Irish performance that the goal he celebrated more wasn’t his record-breaking strike in the 89th minute, it was the winner in the 95th minute instead.

Ronaldo and his teammates were in a relentless battle and they were lucky to have emerged from it unscathed. And they knew it.

John Egan kicks the ball in frustration after Ireland conceded their first goal to Cristiano Ronaldo. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
John Egan kicks the ball in frustration after Ireland conceded their first goal to Cristiano Ronaldo. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Stephen Kenny selected four players from Cork in his squad with John Egan playing on the left of a three-man defence - which often turned into a back five when defending - while Adam Idah started as one of two strikers.

Conor Hourihane will be hoping his recent loan move to Sheffield United will result in more game-time at club level which could then see him start more often for Ireland but out of the quartet, it’s Caoimhin Kelleher who faces the biggest challenge to reclaim a place in the team.

For a moment - or a couple of moments actually - it looked like the stage may have been getting to goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, who has edged ahead of Kelleher in the battle between the two young talented shot-stoppers.

Bazunu twice under-hit short passes in the opening stages. This is something Kenny wants his number one to do - invite the pressure on and play the ball short and out from the back - but only when it’s on.

It wasn’t on and after getting away with it moments earlier, he was soon punished as Jeff Hendrick clipped Bruno Fernandes in an effort to redeem the error, and instead of conceding a certain goal, a penalty was awarded.

Then, after a long VAR delay, it appeared as if the stage was set. The ball was on the spot and standing over it was Ronaldo.

The 8,000 or so crowd in attendance - which included some Irish fans who managed to gain entry - roared even louder when their hero was awarded the UEFA EURO 2020 Alipay Top Scorer award, thanks to the five goals he scored throughout the competition.

Those finishes put him on the brink of history as he needed just one more for the aforementioned record. But Bazunu had other ideas and showed incredible agility and strength of character to make a stunning save.

It was an iconic moment for the Dublin native in just his fourth senior Ireland appearance and was reminiscent of his stop to deny Cork City’s Kieran Sadlier at Turner’s Cross back in 2018 when he was beginning his career with Shamrock Rovers.

But had Ireland hung on to secure an incredible win, the limelight probably would have shone brighter on a Cork man.

Shortly before half-time, John Egan nodded the ball into the far bottom-right corner of the net for his first senior international goal, and as fortune would have it, his mother Mary, sister Mairin and fiancee Laura were in that very stand to see it having sorted tickets earlier in the day.

The goal was a great moment but his display throughout the night will please his boss most. He was immense and a leader when his side was hanging on.

He almost got an assist as Ireland threatened to go 2-0 up, maybe if it wasn’t for some questionable officiating they would have.

At the other end, it was also a night where Adam Idah came of age. His hold-up and his link-up play helped his side get up the pitch and ease the pressure on his rearguard.

There was plenty of positives from a Cork and Ireland point of view. This young team was a few minutes away from a historic result and arguably their greatest ever in qualification terms.

In the end, history was made by Cristiano Ronaldo. But if Ireland keeps playing like that, the wins will come.

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