Calamitous own-goal error cold comfort after pallid Irish performance

Republic of Ireland 1 Hungary 0

Denise O'Sullivan of Republic of Ireland in action against Laura Kovács of Hungary at Tallaght Stadium. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

David Kelly

As the mercury teetered on the edge of freezing point, Ireland’s glacial re-emergence from European football’s distant outposts barely raised a murmur of momentum.

A calamitous 66th-minute own goal from the hitherto outstanding visiting captain Henrietta Csiszar, following her goalkeeper’s inexplicable error, preserved Ireland’s blemish-free record in Group B1 of the Nations League.

Neither side deserved such a pivotal moment. Ireland grew from it; emboldened by necessary changes, Hungary, once so vivid, slowly wilted.

Already promoted with two games to spare, at times it seemed as if this really did look like a team with nothing to play for now, as they wait for next year when they will begin to play for everything, primarily Euro 2025 qualification.

Here, as they had done in Budapest, before utterly imploding, Hungary betrayed any Irish resolution to an expansive game.

They managed the task so effectively that Ireland were forced to withdrew the ineffective captain Katie McCabe from her floating ten role, returning her to wing-back.

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Like Ireland, Hungary can also bank a play-off for the Euros, as they try to regain second place from Northern Ireland, 4-0 victors against Albania earlier in the day.

They played as if it meant more to them, the ultimate insult to any Irish team.

There was never any real danger of an unlikely reverse, but this was a fitful performance, emphasised by a pitifully poor opening period which was arguably the side’s worst under interim boss Eileen Gleeson.

The Dubliner has repeatedly rebuffed any public declaration of interest in taking the post on a full-time basis; even if she maintains private ambitions as the FAI eye the contenders, her side did her no favours here.

Four changes from the side that swam their way to success in Albania last month did not excuse them.

Here, a pair of defensive errors from Caitlyn Hayes indicated that all was not well; she has been outstanding since debuting against Northern Ireland in the Aviva Stadium; this was a pronounced dip; a glaring miss from a header at the other end summed it up.

Megan Connolly, whose utility value can often befuddle managers rather than sharpen their minds, was once more posted in defence and a lazy swipe – remarkably mirrored by her captain McCabe - should have presented Hungary with a lead goal.

Henrietta Csiszar couldn’t seize her chance; Courtney Brosnan tipping over the first-half’s only shot on target.

Remarkably, Ireland rarely pressed with any intent; Hungary splayed the ball at ease, and were even able to develop overlaps on the flanks.

Ireland struggled to cohere, unable to implement any sense of passing pattern and even the bench seemed becalmed to the unfolding mediocrity.

McCabe, posited behind Kyra Carusa, was unable to exert any influence in the game, apart from one neat interchange with Heather Payne which set up Denise O’Sullivan, exempt from criticism.

That even she ended the dank opening 45 minutes with a mis-placed pass was a sorrowful symbol of Irish ineptitude.

It made sense that their best chance was a gifted error from Laura Kovacs, whose tentative pass back to her keeper was snaffled by Carusa.

But even the striker, who has snapped up four goals in four games, was unsure and unsteady, letting the ball, and the opportunity, drift harmlessly.

Evelin Fenyvesi had already blazed wide when bustling past the flat-footed Hayes as Hungary looked the more likely outfit, if hardly a rampaging force.

But they were at least resourceful; Ireland were simply predictable. The hope was that complacency had perhaps set in; though a concept repugnant to sports professionals and usually foreign to this team.

It was encouraging that Hungary introduced a semblance of competition to this lop-sided sextet of games but not for Ireland, or their fans.

There was little reminder of any World Cup joy here; if anything, it was more redolent of a lingering hangover; save when McCabe trotted towards the completed but vacant north stand to take her side’s first corner.

The crowd oohed and aahed with giddy excitement; then groaned as McCabe tried to implement a short corner which, like much of her colleagues’ efforts, was ultimately a cackhanded creative attempt.

After the break, Ireland at least resembled something like the calibre of company to which they feel they ought to belong.

Hayes, with a much more difficult chance from a similar position to the one she fluffed before tea-time, had her header cleared off the line by Hannah Nemeth.

Still, the Hungarians pressed and impressed; that they were even edging the physical stakes was extremely disconcerting to those who support this Irish side.

Assistance would derive from an entirely unexpected source.

Ireland – Brosnan; Payne, Hayes, Connolly, Louise Quinn, Atkinson (Lucy Quinn 57); Littlejohn (Finn 57), Toland (Farrelly 64), O’Sullivan; McCabe capt; Carusa.

Hungary – Szocs; Kovacs (Vida 72), Turanyi, H Nemeth, D Nemeth, L Papp, H Csiszar capt (Sule 81), Zeller, Fenvyesi (Papal HT), Szabo (Kajan 81), Vachter (Zagor HT).

Ref – (S Shukrula)

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