The football was never going to be as captivating and explosive as the build-up to this friendly, but Martin O’Neill will settle for dour and disciplined and the rediscovery of an identity which sees Republic of Ireland at least look competitive in matches.
The manager needed this after a week in which his No 2 Roy Keane again made headlines for the wrong reasons following the leaked WhatsApp voice message of defender Stephen Ward detailing the assistant’s expletive-laden rows with Harry Arter and Jon Walters.
Former Ireland captain Liam Brady has called for Keane to be sacked but O’Neill gave a passionate defence of his right-hand man on the eve of the game.
Mateusz Klich left it late to score Poland’s equaliser after he was smartly played through
The second-half substitute retrieves the ball as Poland search for a winner with little time left
Aiden O’Brien (left) is congratulated by his team-mates after breaking the deadlock
The Millwall striker is surrounded by his Irish team-mates following his first goal
The debutant headed Ireland in front shortly after the restart by deceiving Wojciech Szczesny
POLAND: (4-4-1-1) Szczesny; Kedziora, Glik (Bednarek 61), Kaminski, Reca (Pietrzak 72); Blaszczykowski (Frankowski 81), Krychowiak (Szymanski 72), Linetty, Kurzawa (Kadzior 46); Milik; Piatek (Klich 61)
SUBS NOT USED: Fabianski (GK), Skorupski (GK); Goralski, Lewandowski, Dzwigala, Bereszynski
GOALS: Klich (87)
COACH: Jerzy Brzeczek
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: (3-5-1-1) Randolph; Christie (Doherty 55), Keogh, Egan; Long, Stevens, Hendrick (Meyler 55), Williams (Hourihane 72), O’Dowda (Judge 87); Robinson (Burke 63); O’Brien (Horgan 81)
SUBS NOT USED: Doyle (GK), McDermott (GK); Duffy, Clark, Curtis
GOALS: O’Brien (53)
COACH: Martin O’Neill
REFEREE: Boris Marhefka (Slovakia)
VENUE: Stadion Miejski we Wroclawiu
In fact, it was the best performance we have seen from anyone connected to this Ireland team in a long time.
The whole furore appears to have motivated a boss who looked weary in the wake of last Thursday’s 4-1 drubbing in Wales and his side duly responded.
Ward could well be encouraged to record another note ahead of next month’s Nations League home double-header against Denmark and Wales.
A deserved victory, however, was snatched from them in Wroclaw by an equaliser three minutes from time, but the display has eased the mounting pressure on O’Neill and included a debut strike for the latest player he has turned to in a desperate search for goals, Millwall forward Aiden O’Brien flashing home a header early in the second half.
‘The players have responded brilliantly and we needed a performance like this,’ said O’Neill.
‘We are disappointed not to have won but we’ll take a great deal of confidence from this and it will help with morale, which has always been high, ahead of two big games next month.’
It is approaching five years since O’Neill took charge but this starting line-up was undoubtedly the weakest he has fielded.
Arkadiusz Milik tries an audacious overhead kick but the Polish striker fails to connect
Milik is fouled by Kevin Long as Ireland looked to hang on to their slender lead
He cannot be blamed for that, of course, for any international manager is hostage to the fortune – or misfortune – of those players available to him.
Only Jeff Hendrick of his three Premier League starters is a regular at club level but his form for his country has been so poor of late that the Burnley midfielder remaining in the team serves to highlight the lack of alternatives.
A goalless first half actually felt like progress, even if that was offset against the fact they did not have a shot on goal.
They were 3-0 down at the same juncture in Wales last week and parity this time at least gave them something to build on, and that they did, taking the lead on 53 minutes when O’Brien met the excellent Callum O’Dowda’s inviting centre and glanced beyond Wojciech Szczesny.
Rafal Kurzawa shields the ball away from Callum O’Dowda (right) during the first-half action
Bayern Munich and Poland’s star striker Robert Lewandowski has a laugh while on the bench
But despite being resolute for the majority of the remainder, substitute Mateusz Klich worked a classy one-two and strode clear before tucking beyond Darren Randolph.
There were still a few nervy moments to be negotiated but Ireland did so with a look of old, a dogged resistance which has been the hallmark of the O’Neill era but sadly lacking in recent matches.
And that was hugely important for the boss, even if this game will only ever be remembered for a WhatsApp message which preceded it.
Martin O’Neill stands for the national anthems ahead of Ireland’s friendly with Poland
Assistant manager Keane checks on Enda Stevens who receives treatment during the warm up