Republic of Ireland 2 North Macedonia 0
CORK native Mark O’Mahony’s second goal in two games ensured the Republic of Ireland made it successive victories at Turner’s Cross on Sunday night to seal progression to the Elite Round of the European U17 Championship qualifiers.
O’Mahony’s clever finish in the second half followed Rocco Vata’s incredible strike in the first to ensure Ireland make it through with a game to spare ahead of their meeting with Poland on Wednesday afternoon.
Colin O’Brien made two changes from his side that comprehensively defeated Andorra 5-0 here on Thursday night including O’Mahony being rewarded for his goalscoring exploits in that win as he came in for fellow Leesider Franco Umeh.
Cathal Heffernan again captained the side while their Cork City clubmate Liam Murray was forced to settle for a place on the substitute’s bench.
North Macedonia held arguably the group favourites Poland to a 0-0 draw in their opening game of the campaign and they again showed they were a difficult side to break through as they sat deep and defended resolutely.
The home side were restricted to shots from distance with the excellent Kevin Zefi stinging the palms of the goalkeeper, Kone Doherty then firing the rebound over before Justin Ferizaj saw his low drive from the edge of the penalty area easily denied.
It looked like it was going to take a moment of magic to finally break the deadlock and just past the half an hour mark Celtic’s Rocco Vata produced it as let fly from 25 yards and blasted his strike into the far top left corner of the net, giving the keeper absolutely no chance.
With nothing to lose, the visitors began to look more purposeful with the ball and they soon threw more players forward in search of an equaliser as the match ticked into the second half.
But it was Ireland that came closest to a second goal and Heffernan was desperately unfortunate to see his header crash against the far post shortly after half-time.
But the moment the 925 local fans in attendance craved came with 17 minutes remaining as the Irish made it 2-0 with a goal made in Cork as Umeh, who was only just introduced, picked out O’Mahony and after his first touch took the ball behind him, he reacted brilliantly to backheel it past the keeper in front of the Shed to seal the win.