Luck of the Irish to the Revo's

The anticipation for this match-up had been building for three years. At the 2002 International Cup Ireland was able to hold off the strong finish of the Revolution at Skilled Stadium in Geelong. When the draw for the 2005 version of the Cup was published this was the game that the USA circled first.

At breakfast the Revo players were quiet and reserved; not in fear of Ireland but with intense focus on the task ahead. Coach Alan Nugent had given the boys their instructions; narrowed down to five team rules for this game.

The warm-ups were over, the anthems sung and the coined tossed (Americans winning the toss). A cross breeze was floating across the ground, favoring the southern end slightly. The crowd grew in anticipation of the bounce. It was game on. Ireland won the first tap and the ball streamed straight into the Irish forward line. The ball went straight through the goals, but thankfully for the Revolution it had been touched off the boot further up field and Ireland hit the lead by a solitary point.

The game then settled down (if you can call it that) into a tough, hard fought affair. Under pressure from the Irish the USA made many forced mistakes, but when the USA looked good they looked very good. The majority of the play after the first 30 seconds took place in the USA side of the field but they could not capitalize. The quarter time score was Ireland 1 point to USA 2 points.

A quiet Alan Nugent took the boys into a tight huddle and urged the Revo’s to play in front. This intrepid reporter send a spy into the Irish huddle to gather information…the Irish coach got into his players for not manning up and asked his players for better use of the ball.

In the second quarter the USA midfield was winning the battle in the midfield but the long kick into the forward line was being dampened by the Irish smothering defense. Marks in the forward line were harder to come by than Vegemite in an American grocery store.

This created little mistakes by the USA, which undid much of the good work around the ground. However, the Irish were unable to take advantage of those mistakes. Two USA kickouts after points went straight down the throat of the Irish. Finally, one of the Irish sent the ball into the goal line. First blood Ireland. The goal was disputed that it had not crossed the line. Full back, Brad Rinklin, was behind the line, but the ball was not. After the game Brad confirmed that the ball had not crossed the line, but when the goal umpire waves the flags the discussion is all over.

At the half the USA had 80% of the play, but the score line read Ireland 1 goal 3 points to the Revo’s 2 solitary points.

In the third quarter the intensity of the game lifted. For much of the term it looked like an Under 8’s Mosquito Fleet game with players surrounding the ball and neither team able to get any run on. Added into the rolling commotion was the terrific one percenters by either side; smoothers, tackles, tap-ons, punches. No single player dominated for either team. The Revo’s had kept the one Irish threat silent; and the Revo’s are a team that does not rely on a single individual.

A huge goal by David Thurmond lifted the USA. It was a long kick from the dead pocket. In order to get the distance he threaded it through the man on the mark to gain that extra yard. The USA’s determination at the ball was paying results. The third quarter time score saw the Revo’s behind, but with the wind in their collective sail. Ireland 1-6:12 to USA 1-3:9

In the huddle Coach Nugent urged the players to kick long into the goal square in the last quarter.  His speech was reminiscent of Mel Gibson in Braveheart; “It is a huge challenge…an enormous opportunity. Three points behind with 15 minutes to go. It’s forever; we will prevail”

The mood in the Irish huddle was less optimistic. The coached urged his players to use their voice and “don’t be provoked”. The tone was nervous, the intensity lacking; “not good enough to be up by three points, nail it from here on in.”

The USA applied the pressure early in the fourth, but the opportunities went begging. Every forward thrust was for naught, other than hounding the spirit of the Irish, but points win games. Space could not be found on a 180 by 120 meter field. Finally a point, we are within 2. The Goal. George Lakomy marked and kicked true. Revo’s up by four, and it had yet to be in the Irish part of the field. Another kick in front of goal, another point, but also a missed opportunity.  Another point would be valuable; but kicked into the man on the mark; the next one runs out of bounds. Please, one more point.

The ball trickles into the Irish forward line. A free kick given the Ireland; in front; ticky touchwood; not even in the play. Ireland kicks, but it gets what it deserves…a point. The lead whittled to four. The ball traverses the wing in front of me. A mass of players; throw in after throw in. This is desperation stuff. After 80% of the play we cannot give up an easy score now. Bodies hit bodies. Seconds left, my heart is pumping…and then the siren. USA by 4. Ireland never got a run-on and it took our boys four quarters to do it.

Final: USA 2-5: 17 to Ireland 1-7:13

Assistant Coach Robbie Oliver said right after the game: “the best win in Revolution history. We were down at the half but we refused to surrender”. The USA midfield won the game and the back-line suffocated their efforts. Ireland was kept goalless in the second half, and it could be argued the entire game. The forwards struggled, but got the goals when it mattered.

Coach Nugent was thrilled by the intensity and camaraderie shown by the players. “We have two things in common; we are Americans and we love footy.” A daunting recipe.

After the game I spoke with Matty Dainuski. This was his third game against Ireland. When asked about finally beating the Irish he commented; “It was our turn. We were well prepared and we outmatched their intensity”

Co-captain, Donnie Lucero, has also previously lost two times to the Irish; “It was pretty exhilarating. We have come so far. This win showed our progress as well as our untapped potential”.

It was a great team win. The team can now bask at the march past this evening at the Telstra Dome before the St Kilda/Geelong match-up. The attention then turns to Spain on Sunday and Papua New Guinea (another undefeated team) on Tuesday, in rural Victoria.

USA Best: Mueller; C. Ellis; Bradley; Butler; James Brunmeier; Beilfuss

Goal Scorers: Thurmond, Lakomy 

Paul O’Keeffe
in Melbourne

- Paul O'Keeffe

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