Ireland take a knee and stand tall with battling draw in Budapest

Gavin Bazunu and Caoimhín Kelleher stake their claims for goalkeeping jersey

Hungary 0 Republic of Ireland 0

Wolf whistles at the Szusza Ferenc stadium, in reaction to Irish players taking a knee to protest racism, were followed by a ravenous Hungarian outfit colliding with footballing equals as the Republic of Ireland exit the international stage just as the party is getting started.

The 10,000-plus crowd made an enormous difference to this entree before Hungary welcome Portugal and France to Budapest as European Championship co-hosts.

What might have been.


A scoreless draw feels like the face-saving result both teams craved.

If concentration was an issue high up on an Andorran mountain last week, then the return to a real sporting atmosphere focused the collective mind – especially when Conor Hourihane and Ireland captain John Egan took turns offering Hungary a sniff of goal in the opening two minutes.

Ireland, hassled whenever they played out from the back, were initially unable to connect the dots to cross halfway as a long night on the Danube was promised.

Shane Duffy, a deserving man of the match after a nightmare season with Celtic, was quickest to sense the terms of engagement, drawing a foul for Hourihane and Egan to atone for their early mishaps with a delicious cross that the skipper headed off the crossbar.

That was the solitary chance created at either end until the 39th minute when Gavin Bazunu fully justified the faith Stephen Kenny has shown in him with a sensational one-handed save of Ádám Szalai's header after an equally impressive curving long ball in by Atilla Fiola.

Dara O’Shea leaped with the Bundesliga striker but it seemed a certain goal. Bazunu disagreed.

“Sometimes you take your chance,” was how Kenny explained the continued selection of the 19-year-old ahead of Liverpool’s 22-year-old reserve Caoimhín Kelleher.

From the resulting corner Hourihane blocked Atilla Szalai's downward nudge before Adam Idah stood firm at the front post to eventually clear the danger. No prizes for what Chelsea trainer Anthony Barry drilled into Ireland this past week. They were airtight at set piece.

Kenny has shouldered plenty of criticism for his decision-making in the past year. The Bazunu selection and Kelleher cameo should put some respect on his name.

As should a win and draw in this tricky June window.

Ireland stayed in the fight all night, with Hourihane’s nicely weighted outswinger deserving a boot or random body part to deflect it into the net as half-time ticked closer.

The game never looked like it would offer Troy Parrott another sight of goal as yet another impressive teenager ran himself into the dirt before Daryl Horgan came in.

The second half began with Kelleher winning cap number one in a pre-planned goalkeeping switch and, sure enough, he heaped all the pressure on Kenny’ selection process ahead of the trip to Portugal in September with two stunning stops from both the Szalais.

Idah almost did the same but the Cork man will know his 68th-minute chance could have silenced the gloriously incessant din. Ádám Bogdán’s parry deserves some praise, but that was the moment. And it passed.

Chiedozie Ogbene, born in Nigeria but raised in Cork, also made his debut late on, showing glimpses of his sprinter’s pace, without being able to snatch a winner.

Cristiano Ronaldo slept soundly last night. Not a wink would have been spared even if he watched an entertaining contest between upcoming opposition endeavouring but struggling to play the beautiful game.

The last word belonged to Duffy, who was diplomatic when asked to explain the booing before kick-off.

“It is a difficult time for everyone,” said the Derry man. “We decided as a nation [that we are going to take a knee] and we stand by that. Everyone has got their opinions but hopefully we made the right choice.”

HUNGARY: Gulacsi (Bogdán, 63 mins); Kecskes, Orban, Attila Szalai; Fiola (Hahn, 79 mins), Bolla (Lovrencsics, h/t), Schafear, Kleinheisler (Négo, 63 mins); Nagy; Adam Szalai (S Schon, 89 mins), K Varga (R Varga, h/t).

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Bazunu (Kelleher. h/t); Duffy , O'Shea, Egan; Doherty, Hourihane (Molumby, 56 mins), Cullen, McClean (Manning, 84 mins); Knight (Collins, 88 mins); Parrott (Horgan, 56 mins), Idah (Ogbene, 88 mins).

Referee: Daniel Stefaski (Poland).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent