Two clean sheets.
Mick McCarthy’s second spell as Republic of Ireland manager is off to a promising start.
The Boys in Green followed up Saturday’s uninspiring win in Gibraltar with another 1-0 victory over Georgia in Dublin.
Conor Hourihane scored the only goal in a much improved performance from Ireland, who move to the top of Group D.
Here are the main talking points from the Euro 2020 qualifier at the Aviva Stadium.
Hourihane shines again
What a free kick.
What a way to score your first international goal.
Hourihane decided the match with a moment of the highest quality.
The Cork native curled a fantastic free kick past the Georgia wall and past the despairing dive of Giorgi Loria from 25 yards.
He was aided by Shane Duffy, who made a nuisance of himself in the wall, but the Aston Villa midfielder executed the set piece perfectly.
The free was awarded after McGoldrick was taken out cynically 25 yards from goal.
Hourihane then had to wait for the tennis balls – thrown on in protest of John Delaney and the FAI – to be cleared off the pitch before taking the free, but kept his concentration to fire the hosts into a deserved lead.
The 28-year-old had earlier missed a good opportunity to open the scoring, but his strike was parried away by Loria after great pressing from Jeff Hendrick forced a turnover high up the pitch.
His deliveries were largely excellent once again, and the Villa midfielder has surely cemented his place in the starting lineup after two eye-catching performances in the space of four days.
“He’s got a wand of a left-foot,” McCarthy gushed afterwards. “I’ve always admired him.”
Whelan in the Years
Eyebrows were raised when Glenn Whelan was included in the starting eleven.
It had appeared the veteran midfielder had bowed out of international football after November’s friendly against Northern Ireland, but returned against Georgia to make his first competitive start since a 1-1 away draw against the same opponents 18 months ago.
Whelan has long been a divisive figure among Irish fans, but the 35-year-old was excellent in midfield at the Aviva.
“I thought Glenn was remarkable,” McCarthy claimed in his post-match interview.
“What is he 35? That is testimony to how he has kept himself in good shape and I thought he had a very good game, started us playing and broke things up.”
Whelan operated behind Hourihane and Hendrick at the base of the Irish midfield, allowing the other midfielders to get forward when required.
The Aston Villa midfielder broke up play, largely used the ball well, and made one crucial clearance off the line.
His distribution was more progressive than we’ve come to expect, highlighted by one delightful pinged pass forward shortly after the hour mark.
He was so effective defensively that he even managed to clear a tennis ball during Hourihane’s celebrations.
There was one late shot that went out for a throw in, but we’ll allow him that.”It’s a privilege to come back and put the jersey on,” he said after the game.
“In November, I thought that was going to be the last time I’d ever do it.”
A new fan favourite?
David McGoldrick left the pitch to a resounding ovation.
The Sheffield United striker picked up the man of the match award after an industrious display littered with moments of quality.
He led the line extremely well, and also dropped deep to join the build up.
McGoldrick won the free kick which led to the goal – having set up Hendrick’s winner on Saturday – and came close to finding the back of the net himself.
Operating as a lone striker, he held the ball up well, and produced plenty of good touches and passes throughout.
The Championship forward works relentlessly and makes clever runs down the channels, despite lacking lightning pace.
McGoldrick has yet to get off the mark for Ireland, but has looked dangerous in both Euro 2020 qualifying matches to date.
The 31-year-old almost doubled Ireland’s lead in the second half after racing clear of the Georgian defence.
He nudged the ball past the onrushing Loria, but his touch was heavy, and he could only sky his resulting strike high over the bar from a difficult angle.
All that is missing from his game is goals, which will surely come as the campaign unfolds.
Randolph reacts again
Darren Randolph made another superb save against Georgia.
The Ireland number one has largely had very little to do in the Boys in Green’s opening two matches, but has been alert and ready when called upon.
He made an incredible save to deny Roy Chipolina’s header in Gibraltar, and produced another crucial save against Georgia just before the interval.
On the stroke of half time, the 31-year-old – who was recently named in the Championship Team of the Year – reacted quickly to parry Valerian Gvilla’s powerful shot away, with James McClean clearing the rebound to safety.
Randolph had virtually been a spectator up until that point, with the clearance of the aforementioned tennis balls off the pitch serving as his biggest test until Gvilla’s sharp strike.
He was guilty of being too casual at one stage in the second half, conceding a needless corner, but thankfully it did not prove costly.
The Middlesbrough shot stopper will have been relieved to have seen Georgia skipper Jaba Kankava’s late effort cannon off the outside of the upright.
Randolph has played a key part in Ireland’s opening two victories, and is the main reason they have yet to conceded a goal in Group D.
This article originally appeared on The Season Ticket.