Five-star U19s sweep past Luxembourg
Republic of Ireland U-19 5 - 0 Luxembourg U-19
Robbie Brady 35 pen
Stephen McDonnell 37
Sean McGinty 45+1
Michael Rafter 80
Craig Walsh 90
The Republic of Ireland got the best possible start to their UEFA first phase qualifiers today (Thursday) by putting five goals past Luxembourg without reply at the Georgi Benkovski Stadium in Bulgaria.
The Irish had to be patient against resolute opponents and their approach reaped rewards with three goals in the last ten minutes of the opening half. Two more strikes in the final ten minutes rounded off a comprehensive victory in Paul Doolin's first match as Ireland boss.
As forecasted, the incessant rain from the earlier in the week continued to pour down today, making playing conditions far from ideal.
Ireland did their best to play passing football the rain-sodden surface and following a turgid opening ten minutes, Stephen McDonnell got on the end of the first chance in heading Daryl Horgan's cross over the bar.
Jeff Hendrick and Horgan also went close as the boys in green settled into their stride and it was an enterprising piece of play by captain Robbie Brady which brought the opener on 35 minutes.
The Manchester United winger's mazy run left two defenders trailing in his wake and within shooting range but Laurent Jans was drawn into fouling Brady, enabling the skipper convert the spot-kick past goalkeeper Sacha Mersch.
Within two minutes, Mersch was taking the ball from his net once again as Stephen McDonnell drilled a low shot into the bottom corner after a corner wasn't cleared properly.
Luxembourg continued to sit back in an attempt to soak up the pressure only for Ireland to find a third goal in stoppage time at the end of the half. This time it was defender Sean McGinty gleefully punishing slack marking at the far post to plant a header home.
Ireland goalkeeper Aaron McCarey, hardly worked in the opening 45 minutes, was on his toes to deal with a shot from Deville six minutes after the restart.
But that's as close Luxembourg got to breaching Ireland's goal. Shane Duffy almost marked his Under-19 debut with a spectacular goal when his bicycle kick from just inside the box midway through the half was hacked off the line.
Striker Michael Rafter, on as a substitute for Gary Shaw, was in the thick of the action for the final twenty minutes - having a strike ruled out for offside and seeing his close range effort five minutes foiled.
However, he had better luck on 80 minutes as McDonnell and Brady dragged the defence apart with an intricate move and set up Rafter to finish with a neat flick over the goalkeeper.
Doolin's charges pressed on for more goals and struck a fifth in the last minute. McGinty bombed forward on a run out of defence and his cross had enough accuracy to allow another substitute, Craig Walsh, rattle the net with a header.
In today's other group game, Serbia laid down a marker of their credentials by defeating mini-group hosts Bulgaria.
Ireland are to meet Bulgaria on Saturday before concluding against Serbia next Tuesday. The top two teams in the group advance to the elite stage of the qualification series, one step away from the UEFA Under-19 Championships.
Republic of Ireland: McCarey (Wolves); Walker (Wrexham), McGinty (Man United), Duffy (Everton), Egan (Sunderland); Rodgers (Chelsea), Hendrick (Derby County), McDonnell (Dundalk); Horgan (Salthill Devon), Shaw (Bray Wanderers), Brady (Man United).
Substitutions: Rafter (unattached) for Shaw (65 mins), Walsh for Horgan (72 mins), Irwin (Bolton Wanderers) for Anton Rodgers (80 mins).
UEFA U19 Championship first phase qualifiers:
Thursday October 7 (4pm)
Republic of Ireland 5-0 Luxembourg - Georgi Benkovski Stadium, Teteven
Serbia 3-0 Bulgaria - Lokomotiv, Mezdra
Saturday October 9 (4pm)
Republic of Ireland v Bulgaria - Georgi Benkovski Stadium, Teteven
Serbia v Luxembourg - Lokomotiv, Mezdra
Tuesday October 12 (4pm)
Serbia v Republic of Ireland - Georgi Benkovski Stadium, Teteven.
Luxembourg v Bulgaria - - Lokomotiv, Mezdra.