Dominant Europe retain the Ryder Cup

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Paul McGinley with Ryder CupOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

Europe made it three in a row as they defeated the USA 16 ½-11 ½ in the 40th Ryder Cup. It was down to the rookie, Jamie Donaldson to win the trophy. His approach shot on the 15th was two feet from the hole with his opponent; Keegan Bradley’s ball lay 20 feet away. “Pick it up. They’ve won,” said captain Tom Watson. Bradley obliged and sent the crowd and the waiting team members into a flurry. With this victory it means that Europe have won eight of the last ten editions of this tournament.

Donaldson the hero

The Welshman was one of the top performers this weekend amassing three points out of four. His partnership with Lee Westwood, the most experienced player in this Ryder Cup, was a great call. It gave the rookie the confidence he needed and helped him deliver much needed points. Their only defeat as a pairing was to Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan on the Saturday morning fourball.

When the draw was made for the singles session, Donaldson versus Keegan Bradley stuck out. Bradley, an undefeated rookie in 2012, had lost his first match with his partner Phil Mickelson on Friday afternoon and was surprisingly left out on Saturday. Some would have said this match would go to the wire. That wasn’t the case. Donaldson had taken to this tournament like a duck to water and went on to score a five under par in 15 holes. His game couldn’t have been more perfect with the approach on the 15th showing his qualities as a top player and a future Ryder Cup staple.

McIlroy and McDowell set the mark

There had been much talk in the lead up to this event about the relationship between Rory McIlroy and his fellow countryman, Graeme McDowell after the former brought his friend into a legal case against his former management company. On the 17th hole, after Graeme McDowell had just defeated the highly rated Jordan Spieth, it was McIlroy who was there to congratulate him after his victory. The two embraced as both had just recorded impressive and very important points for Europe.

McDowell was first out this morning. He was one over going trough the front nine but his opponent, Spieth had been impressive there and notched up a lead of three. That all changed though on the back nine. McDowell knew he had to get points on the board and he made his move. He birdied the 11th and 15th while the American collapsed and bogeyed the 10th, 12th and 13th handing McDowell the victory on the 17th.

McIlroy on the other hand, was on fire, decimating his friend Rickie Fowler 5&4. It was the perfect display from the World number 1, earning his third point out of a possible five. The opening three holes of birdie, eagle and birdie were immense and showed the talent of man who won back-to-back majors this summer.

Tough Start

The morning was not that rosy though as the leaderboard was dominated by the red of USA with the likes of Spieth and Patrick Reed leading the way. However, once McIlroy secured his victory followed by McDowell it was all Europe.

As for the Americans, their four victories came thanks to Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar and Jimmy Walker defeating Henrik Stenson, Stephen Gallacher, Thomas Bjorn and Lee Westwood respectively.

Reed in particular was really fired up. After being heckled on the opening tee, the rookie fired back when after draining his par putt on the 7th, putting his finger to his lips to quiet the crowd. Boos rained down on the young Texan. “What in the world is he doing? He’s going to incite a riot,” said golfing legend Jack Nicklaus on Sky Sports after the Reed incident. It helped Reed initially as he took the lead again on the 8th. However, after going 2 up on the 12th, the Swede hit back and after tying the match on the 15th, he suffered a narrow defeat on the 18th to the brash American.

All the talk now will be to 2016, where Hazeltine National Golf Course in Minnesota will host the 41st Ryder Cup. There will also be a lot of speculation as to who can lead America to their first Ryder Cup win since 2008. One man mentioned for the captain’s job is the man who led that last winning American side, Paul Azinger. He has already received the backing of one of the top tour players, Jason Dufner and expect many to follow suit.

Questions will be asked about the possibility of Paul McGinley continuing in the role. The European players spoke highly about the Dubliner with Sergio Garcia stating he took a modern approach to the captaincy.

However, all of that is for another day. As for now, Europe reign again and players, staff and fans alike will be partying well into the night as they celebrate their biggest winning margin since 2006 at The K Club.


Sunday Singles Results

Match 1: Graeme McDowell def. Jordan Spieth 2&1

Match 2: Patrick Reed def. Henrik Stenson 1UP

Match 3: Rory McIlroy def. Rickie Fowler 5&4

Match 4: Justin Rose A/S Hunter Mahan

Match 5: Phil Mickelson def. Stephen Gallacher 3&1

Match 6: Martin Kaymer def. Bubba Watson 4&2

Match 7: Matt Kuchar def. Thomas Bjorn 4&3

Match 8: Sergio Garcia def. Jim Furyk 1UP

Match 9: Ian Poulter A/S Webb Simpson

Match 10: Jamie Donaldson def. Keegan Bradley 4&3

Match 11: Jimmy Walker def. Lee Westwood 3&2

Match 12: Victor Dubuisson A/S Zach Johnson

Europe: 16 ½ USA: 11 ½

Impressive afternoon hands Europe Ryder Cup lead

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Ryder Cup 2014Original article appears on Pundit Arena.

Europe will head into the final day of the 40th Ryder Cup with a 10-6 lead over their American counterparts. It was again the foursomes’ format that Europe shined in, winning three matches and halving one. Europe’s record in the format for this edition of the competition reads seven points from a possible eight. It will leave Team USA with an uphill battle but they will remember what happened to them at Medinah in 2012 and hope they can inflict the same heart-breaking defeat they suffered, on their opponents.

Rose/Stenson pairing breaks records

It was Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson for Europe and Team USA’s Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar who opened today’s proceedings. The much talked about team of Rose/Stenson wanted to carry on with their fine form from yesterday and they did, winning their match in style. Their round of 12 under is a Ryder Cup record and the combined round with Watson and Kuchar of 21 under is also a new Ryder Cup record in the Fourball’s format.

Swede, Stenson sat out the afternoon session due to a tight back. Fellow Scandinavian, Thomas Bjorn, joined him in the clubhouse. The Dane and his morning partner Martin Kaymer fell to the wonder team of Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth. That left Rose to team with Kaymer to take on Reed and Spieth in the afternoon.

Fatigue to blame as Spieth/Reed lose 100% record

Arguably the pairing of the tournament, the rookies, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed picked up where they left off. The pair fell two down to Bjorn and Kaymer on the 3rd hole but when they reached the back nine they kicked their game up a gear and went five under in seven holes to win 5&3.

After being frustrated to be left out of Friday’s afternoon session, USA captain Tom Watson decided to throw his rookies into Saturday’s second session. They faced the team of Rose and Kaymer, who didn’t seem to gel as hoped. The European pair were only up once in the whole match and that was on the 3rd.

Spieth and Reed seemed to have the game in hand. However, a short attempt on the 15th went horribly wrong for Reed, the only stain on his record so far this weekend. Reed’s reaction to his poor attempt suggested he was exhausted. It was a gamble to leave Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley out of the both sessions and really, they could (and possibly should) have taken the place of the rookies after sitting out the morning as keeping the rookies out backfired.

This allowed the Europeans back into the game temporarily. A bogey by Rose on the 17th meant the Americans went one up to the 18th only needing to halve the hole to get a precious point. After a bad lie in the bunker, Reed could only manage a chip onto the putting surface, which landed a distance from the pin. Rose took advantage and drained his birdie to halve the match and put some distance between the teams heading into the final day.

Dubusisson and McDowell put on a foursome master class

The team that surprised most on Friday was of Graeme McDowell and his partner, the rookie, Victor Dubusisson. After handing the, previously undefeated, pair of Mickelson and Bradley their first defeat on Friday, the dynamic duo then went on to comfortably defeat the pairing of Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler.

The European pair’s round was just perfect golf. Drives, approaches and the short game were all impeccable with Dubusisson staking his claim to be the top rookie of this tournament. He helped his side to a tremendous 5&4 win and should he win comfortably in the singles, he could be picked out as one of the heroes of the 2014 Ryder Cup

Is Poulter back to Ryder Cup best?

Questions surrounded the selection of Ian Poulter for Saturday’s morning session. Was he passed his best? Would he falter again? Thankfully, the man many of us have come to idolise at this event showed signs of the magic that makes him loved by the European fans.

Nothing summed this up more than his crucial attempt on the 15th. Poulter needed to make the hole to prevent opponents, Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler going two up with three to play. The Englishman stood over the ball confidently at the edge of putting green. All eyes were glued to see if the magic could come back. Thankfully it did as Poulter’s chip attempt ended with the ball in the bottom of the cup.

From there, Poulter was full of confidence and sank his birdie on the 16th to halve the match. That is how it ended. It was a vital point for Europe as they only won a single match in the morning. Going up against major winner Bubba Watson on Sunday should spur on the captain’s pick as he will want to payback the faith shown in him by Paul McGinley. Expect the familiar roar and bulging eyes to be seen around the course tomorrow.

With what is a commanding lead going into the final day, Europe will rest easy knowing that all they need is 4 ½ points to win outright and retain the trophy. They will also remember what happened in 2012 and will want to prevent the Americans doing what they did two years ago. Tomorrow should go back and forth but will be filled with intense excitement and should end with the trophy in European hands.


Saturday Morning Fourball Results

Match 1: Justin Rose & Henrik Stenson def. Bubba Watson & Matt Kuchar 3&2

Match 2: Jim Furyk & Hunter Mahan def. Jamie Donaldson & Lee Westwood 4&3

Match 3: Jordan Spieth & Patrick Reed def. Thomas Bjorn & Martin Kaymer 5&3

Match 4: Rory McIlroy & Ian Poulter A/S Rickie Fowler & Jimmy Walker

Europe: 6 ½ USA: 5 ½


Saturday Evening Foursomes Results

Match 1: Jamie Donaldson & Lee Westwood def. Zach Johnson & Matt Kuchar 2&1

Match 2: Justin Rose & Martin Kaymer A/S Jordan Spieth & Patrick Reed

Match 3: Sergio Garcia & Rory McIlroy def. Jim Furyk & Hunter Mahan 3&2

Match 4: Victor Dubuisson & Graeme McDowell def. Rickie Fowler & Jimmy Walker 5&4

Europe: 10 USA: 6

Europe takes opening day lead in Ryder Cup

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GleneaglesOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

Captain Paul McGinley will be sleeping a bit easier tonight after his Europe side turned a poor morning session around to take a 5-3 lead into Saturday.

“It seems everyone is nervous,” declared Ewen Murray after the match announcer mistook Webb Simpson for Bubba Watson on the opening tee this morning. Little did he or those watching know it was the prologue to what proceeded. There were plenty of twists, turns and even some shocks that make this competition so unique.

Simpson and Watson disappoint as Europe open account

The opening match set the tone. As the sun rose over the highlands, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson made their way to the rocking grandstand. Those who had turned up to the course early made their voices heard as the player’s walked to the first tee. Simpson, who was first to tee off, hit his shot not even 200 yards.

From there the Europeans pounced. On the 14th, Rose made a short putt and got the first point on the board and, more importantly, it was a blue point. The Americans were extremely poor and never put their mark on the game. For a team that performed so well in 2012, neither Simpson nor Watson managed a birdie in any of the 14 holes they played.

Rose and Stenson also played in the afternoon against Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson. This test was a bit tougher, however, Europe were firmly in control and after dropping to level terms on the 8th, Stenson sank his putt on the 15th and the pairing didn’t look back as they came out victorious with a 2&1 victory.

American rookies shine

The third match saw Scotland’s own Stephen Gallacher paired with cult hero Ian Poulter. The chant of “Walking on a Poulter Wonderland” rang around Bracken Brae as the Englishman warmed up; a smile beaming ear to ear as the chant went on.

However, that smile became a frustrating frown as his short attempt to halve the 1st slipped past the hole. American rookies, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth stole the spotlight, which was reserved for the hometown hero, Gallacher. Reed in particularly played spectacularly. His three birdies were superb, especially his long putt on the 9th. Spieth was not to be outdone. The 21-year-old also managed three birdies to help his side completed an impressive display.

Both were disappointed not to be out again in the afternoon. Captain Tom Watson said, “They were very upset at me for not playing them in the afternoon.” And so they should be they could have helped the American’s extend their lead in the afternoon session. Something that could cost America dear on Sunday.

McIlroy/Garcia save face in the afternoon as Mickelson/Bradley lose 100% record

The partnership of Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia came out in the second session on Friday much like they did in the first. Both seemed to be still reeling from their close defeat to Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in the morning with their driving off the tee leaving little to be desired.

It was a sense of déjà vu for the Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler except instead of escaping with half a point they will be wondering how they let the World number 1 and number 3 get back into the game. The American duo escaped their first session with half a point after Martin Kaymer and Thomas Bjorn led for much of the match.

McIlroy made a huge putt on the 17th to keep Europe in the match. A fantastic strike by Garcia on the 18th to the green all but wrapped up the point. Fowler missed the chance to halve the hole and in turn, win the match.

The American duo of Mickelson & Bradley won a back and fourth contest against Garcia and McIlroy in the morning session on the 18th after numerous misses on the green allowed Mickelson a two-foot putt for birdie and a precious point for Team USA.

However, many will question if the aforementioned pairing of Reed and Spieth should have gone out instead of the pairing of Mickelson and Bradley. Mickelson made numerous mistakes including missing short putts on the 4th and 5th to hand an early lead to the pairing of Graeme McDowell and the rookie, Victor Dubuisson. The Frenchman went into the match cool and confident and this showed on the course. He never showed any signs of nerves and undoubtedly aided his team’s victory.

Donaldson shines

Another man who shone on his Ryder Cup debut was the Welshman Jamie Donaldson. Teaming up with Lee Westwood, Donaldson confidence oozed as he stepped comfortably over his putt on the 7th and drained it to put Europe 1UP against the pairing of Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar. From there the pairing kept it together and Donaldson won the match after a putt that made it to the green and left the Americans with too much work to do.

Tomorrow is another day but Europe will be full of confidence Friday night and looking forward to getting back on the course Saturday morning.


Friday Morning Fourball Results

Match 1: Justin Rose & Henrik Stenson def. Bubba Watson & Webb Simpson 5&4

Match 2: Thomas Bjorn & Martin Kaymer A/S Rickie Fowler & Jimmy Walker

Match 3: Jordan Spieth & Patrick Reed def. Stephen Gallacher & Ian Poulter 5&4

Match 4: Keegan Bradley & Phil Mickelson def. Sergio Garcia & Rory McIlroy 1UP

Europe: 1 ½ USA: 2 ½


Friday Evening Foursomes Results

Match 1: Jamie Donaldson & Lee Westwood def. Jim Furyk & Matt Kuchar 2UP

Match 2: Justin Rose & Henrik Stenson def. Hunter Mahan & Zach Johnson 2&1

Match 3: Sergio Garcia & Rory McIlroy A/S Rickie Fowler & Jimmy Walker

Match 4: Victor Dubuisson & Graeme McDowell def. Keegan Bradley & Phil Mickelson 3&2

Europe: 5 USA: 3

Fourball matchups revealed as Ryder Cup is officially opened

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Ryder Cup Gleneagles 2014Original article appears on Pundit Arena.

All the talk of Thursday’s Ryder Cup opening ceremony will be around the fourth match in Friday’s opening session of fourballs, in what should be a crucial point, the match of Europe’s Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy against Team USA’s Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson. The much talked about team of Bradley and Mickelson were a sensation in Medinah two years ago, winning all three of their games together but losing their single matches against McIlroy and Justin Rose respectively.

The McIlroy/Garcia pairing will be looking to be put a stop to their American counterparts. The partnership could be a stroke of genius from captain Paul McGinley, whose thinking is presumably based on the amount of time both have played together on tour. McIlroy and Garcia played with each other in the final rounds of The Open in July and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in August. The added twist to this contest will be the comments made by Mickelson on Wednesday about the relationship between McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. The Northern Irish man will be looking for his game to do the talking as a way to hit back at the Americans over the comments.

American veterans to sit out morning session

The talk of the American team is the decision by captain Tom Watson to leave out veterans like Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk in the opening session. His selection seems to stem from his judgement that his team’s rookies get the chance to experience the Ryder Cup and get a sense of the job in hand, then put the likes of Kuchar and Furyk into the mix in the afternoon’s session.

Rookies take centre stage

Match three is another interesting set of pairings. Stephen Gallacher and Ian Poulter against Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed sees one of the most spirited members of the European team, Poulter, playing with three Ryder Cup rookies. However, in the shape of Gallacher he will have a determined home-grown player who will be determined to impressive at a course he knows so well. Don’t be surprised to see the rookie giving the veteran some advice around the course.

The team of Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker will also be intriguing, as they had apparently asked to be paired together. The Butch Harmon students have struck up a friendship on tour and will look to turn that friendship into a formidable force in tomorrow’s match and repay captain Watson’s faith in them. However, they will play the tough pair of Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer. The German will be hoping to carry on from his winning putt in 2012 after a dismal start to that year’s tournament where he only played twice out of the five sessions. He will be in good hands with Bjorn who has appeared in two Ryder Cups, winning both times in 1997 and 2002.

Set the alarm clock

The first match of the 2014 Ryder Cup sees Europe’s Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson face off against Team USA’s Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson. With a tee time set for 7:35am (sunrise at the Centenary Course is set for 7:07am), both pairings will be hoping to be the first to put points on the board for their team.

The team of Watson and Simpson will be looking to build on the rapport they had in Medinah and to add to the two wins they achieved in 2012. Their only defeat as a pairing came at the hands of Rose and Ian Poulter. Rose will hope his partner Stenson can keep up his good form and build on the 3 points he has won over seven games in the Ryder Cup. Rose, whose own record in this competition reads as six points out of a possible nine, will be hoping he can repeat the feat he and Poulter achieved in 2012 and dismantle the team of Watson and Simpson and turn the board blue in the early stages of this, to paraphrase captain McGinley’s words in his opening ceremony speech, premier showpiece in world sport.

Friday Morning Fourballs

Match 1 (Tee Time 7:35am): Justin Rose & Henrik Stenson vs. Bubba Watson & Webb Simpson

Match 2 (Tee Time 7:50am): Thomas Bjorn & Martin Kaymer vs. Rickie Fowler & Jimmy Walker

Match 3 (Tee Time 8:05am): Stephen Gallacher & Ian Poulter vs. Jordan Spieth & Patrick Reed

Match 4 (Tee Time 8:20am): Sergio Garcia & Rory McIlroy vs. Keegan Bradley & Phil Mickelson

Gleneagles awaits Ryder Cup kick-off

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Ryder Cup TrophyOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

Situated in the picturesque settings of the Scottish Highlands, the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles is all set to host the 40th edition of one of sport’s illustrious competitions, the Ryder Cup. Team Europe will be hoping to reclaim a trophy they dramatically won in Medinah in 2012 after a sensational comeback from 10-6 down on Saturday to win 14 ½ to 13 ½ on Sunday.

One man who has been making the headlines leading up to this week has been the World No.1 Rory McIlroy. Questions have been hanging over the 25 year old’s head in the lead up to this week in terms of who will partner him in the Friday and Saturday sessions. The obvious choice seemed to be with his fellow countryman Graeme McDowell.

However, legal action between the McIlroy and his former management company Horizon Sports Management – of which McDowell is associated with and is being dragged into the legal action – has meant the partnership between the duo from Northern Ireland is up in the air. McDowell then ruled out partnering the World No.1 in the opening fourball session on Friday but did not rule out a return to the partnership in the afternoon’s foursomes.

This didn’t stop the American’s making light of the situation with Phil Mickelson taking a sly dig at the pair during a press conference on Wednesday. “Not only do we play together, we also don’t litigate against each other,” sated Mickelson with a wry smile after being questioned about the bond in the American camp.

McIlroy himself emphasised that it’s about the team and not just himself. “I have a job to do which is to go out and win points for Europe and I don’t care what number I play or who I’m play with. I have got a responsibility to put points on the board and I am one-twelfth of a team unit here and I’m going to play the same role as everyone else to try and get points on the board,” proclaimed McIlroy.

In regards to the American team, Tuesday’s first practice gave a hint to Friday morning’s pairings. There were three groups out playing fourballs at the crack of dawn. The first group consisted of Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson. The second contained Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed and Hunter Mahan. The final group was made up of Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley, Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler. Mickelson confirmed he will indeed be partnering Bradley in Friday’s morning session, a return to the successful partnership of 2012 where they won all 3 of their matches as partners.

It is understood that Walker and Fowler are keen to partner each other on Friday. Both are coached by Butch Harmon and have struck up a friendship having worked under the legendary coach together at events on the PGA Tour. Should the team of Watson and Simpson make it to the tee on Friday, there will be no surprised looks. That pairing won 2 of their 3 matches in 2012, only losing to Justin Rose and Ian Poutler in their Saturday morning foursomes match.

The captains gave a few insights into their thinking ahead of Friday’s showdown during press conferences on Wednesday morning.

European captain, Paul McGinley singled out his experience of being a vice-captain to José María Olazábal in 2012 as aiding him in his preparations ahead of this weekend. “To watch and observe José María and be a little bit involved with him and be sitting on his shoulders as vice-captain was a massive learning curve for me,” said the Dubliner.

Would he be prepared for a tough battle should the early sessions in Medinah be repeated? “At the time it was horrible experience to be on the end of a walloping from the Americans like we were in the first two days,” quipped a smiling McGinley. “However, in hindsight it was a great learning curve for me. Should that situation occur this week, I feel that I am better equipped then I would have been without the experience of Medinah.”

If McGinley was relaxed and composed in his press conference then the same could not be said for his counterpart, USA captain, Tom Watson. The 65 year old appeared less than impressed when questions were put to him about his recent Ryder Cup experience (he hasn’t been to a Ryder Cup since his victory as captain in the 1993 Ryder Cup) and also his age. Watson pointed to his experience of 4 Ryder Cup appearances as a player and his previous stint as captain.

However, he stressed that Team USA are all on the same page and have one goal – to bring back the Ryder Cup to American shores. “You want to make a conflict about it (Team USA camaraderie) but there is no conflict honestly,” said Watson.

The Americans are considered underdogs heading into this year’s tournament, a title that they will certainly revel in after all the talk of how truly prepared Team USA are with the loss of players like Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods. However, make no doubt about it, they will fight until the end. Tom Watson knows all about the Ryder Cup and what it means to his fellow countrymen. That is the reason he was brought in to be captain. He will want to leave with the 17 inch, gold trophy in his hands on Sunday.

What stands in his team’s way is a strong European team led by a passionate captain, a former GAA player who has been analysing and dissecting everything about his team to make sure he gets the formula right over the three days, the winning formula.

When the dust settles on Sunday evening, one team will lift the Ryder Cup but it will be won after three days of intense, ardent and spirited golf by 24 of the best players in the sport.

Comfortable victory for Ireland as focus shifts towards Georgia

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Republic of Ireland team celebrateOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

The Republic of Ireland started the new season on the right foot as they defeated Oman 2-0 in the final friendly game ahead of Sunday’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Georgia. However, Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill will be questioning why his squad could not put away more of the chances that were handed to his side throughout the 90 minutes.

Wednesday night saw a weakened starting XI with some of the key members of the squad left on the bench ahead of the test that awaits them in Tbilisi this weekend. However, there was a return for Everton’s Darron Gibson made a return to Aviva after being out of the squad for the last 10 months due to a mixture of injury and being disheartened by former manager Giovanni Trapattoni.

The ‘Boys in Green’ started brightly in the opening exchanges as they pressed forward in search of an early goal. However, the Oman defence packed into the box and swatted off any attack on their goal. The Irish then drifted off as Oman went on the attack. An attempted pass by Stephen Quinn was blocked by referee, Illias Spathas, and Raed Saleh picked up the loose ball and paced down the wing and onto the edge of the box. He laid the ball off to Mohammed Al Siyabi, who struck it poorly and went wide of the returning Shay Given.

The first half was marred by some sloppy play by the Irish including a back pass by Robbie Brady to Given that went out of play for a corner. There were plenty of mistimed passes made by the Irish that would have gone punished if against sterner opponents, something that O’Neill must work on ahead of the forthcoming fixtures.

However, the Republic’s game improved slightly after the 19th minute when Brady whipped in a corner that was met by Kevin Doyle. His header sailed passed Wigan Athletic keeper Ali Al Habsi and into the back of the net. The Crystal Palace man marked his 60th game in the green jersey with his 14th international goal.

There were a few more chances in between but nothing could hit the target. The best chance to put the Irish further ahead, lay to David Meyler after Brady’s cross was punched away by Al Habsi and landed at the Hull City man’s feet. His chip bounced off the upright and back into play but was cleared by the Oman defence.

The second half started much like the first ended. However, the pace picked up when the trio of Robbie Keane, Shane Long and Aiden McGeady came on in the 58th minute and gave the Irish the boost it needed. McGeady had a great opportunity to double the Irish lead, 20 minutes into the second period, but the Everton midfielder’s attempt was cleared off the line by Mohammed Al Musalami.

The attacks didn’t stop and the Irish piled on the pressure but the finishing left a lot to be desired. However, on the 81st minute, Brady’s corner was met by captain of the night, Richard Keogh, his slight tap landed to Alex Pearce and the Reading man slotted home a soft shot past Oman’s keeper.

Oman had a few chances as well but their best effort was a long through ball by Hussain Al Hadhri to Saad Al Mukhaini, which was collected by substitute keeper Rob Elliot, who replaced Given for the second half.

After the game, O’Neill commented on the performance and was happy with the win for his squad. “We needed the game and it was nice to win. We would have liked to been further ahead by half time and got the second goal earlier but we played some nice football. My concern would be that when we made a few good passes but it ended with the ball going backwards,” said O’Neill.

O’Neill also comment on the team he had for Sunday with Joey O’Brien and now, James McClean both ruled out of the clash with Georgia through injury. “I was concerned that Joey O’Brien had to go and James McClean is out now too. My concern with James is that he has not had enough game time at Wigan. I want to give him a chance to get ready for later games and not worsen the injury.”

The Ireland manager also admitted he was looking forward to the campaign and mentioned that confidence was high in the camp. “It’s a long road ahead,” claimed O’Neill, “However, we will be ready for it. We won the game tonight and took confidence from it. There was no confidence lost during the summer games. We have only one thing in mind and that is to prepare as best as possible for Sunday.”

With the 4 games before the end of the year, 3 of them away including a trip to World Cup winners Germany, O’Neill and Keane will be happy with tonight’s result but know that there will need to be some improvements ahead of Sunday evening’s game against the Georgians.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given (Elliot 46’), Meyler (Murphy 85’), Keogh (C), Pearce, Ward, Pilkington (McGeady 58’), Gibson (Whelan 69’), Quinn, Brady, Hoolahan (Keane 58’), Doyle (Long 58’).
Substitutes: Forde, Wilson, Coleman, O’Shea, Stokes.
Goals: Doyle 19’, Pearce 81’
Yellow Cards: Gibson 68’

OMAN: Al Habsi (C), S Al Mukhani, A Al Mukhani, Al Ghailani (Al Busaidi 58’), Al Owaisi, Al Musalani, Al Muhaijri (Al Jabri 58’), Al Farsi (Al Muqbali 80’), Saleh (Al Mashari 86’), Al Siyani, Hardan (Al Qasmi 58’)
Substitutes: Al Rushidi, Al Zaabi, Al Nahar, Al Jalbobi, Al Hadhri, Al Ihsi, Almashari.

Referee: Illias Spathas (Greece)

Man of the Match: David Meyler