Noel Hunt: touch

Last week proved to be an extraordinary one for four Waterford players on the international stage. On Tuesday Eddie Nolan wore the captain’s armband against Turkey in Turners Cross in what was Ireland’s first game in the Euro 2011 campaign.

Four days previously the Preston North End defender had starred in what was a memorable occasion against Spain at the RSC. The squad travelled to Cork in a confident frame of mind and really fancied their chances against the Turks but sadly things went awry.

Ireland had plenty of chances all through the game but failed to take any of them. The main culprit was Cillian Sheridan, the Celtic striker currently on loan at Motherwell who missed at least four excellent chances.

Unfortunately Eddie gifted the visitors their opening goal after 13 minutes. He tamely headed the ball back to goalkeeper Shane Redmond. Deniz Yilmaz dashed in to volley the ball to the roof of the net in some style and Emre Ozkan made it 2-0 shortly before half-time. An exciting 55th minute substitute, Omer Sismanoglu, rounded off the game in injury-time with a magnificent goal.

Nolan he did not put a foot wrong after his mistake and he has to be given great credit for the manner in which he dusted himself down and got back to his best form. The top Irish player was Owen Garvan who’d also impressed so much at the RSC.

The crowd in Turners Cross was 2,515 – around a thousand less than attended the friendly game in Waterford and perhaps that will have been noticed by the FAI. Already the talk is that Waterford more than held their own in staging the game against Spain and hopefully the RSC will now stage more international games in the future.

Noel Hunt’s goal

The following night in Bari, John O’Shea and Stephen Hunt lined out for the Republic against Italy. The previous Saturday the two local lads had played in the disappointing 1-1 draw with Bulgaria in Croke Park.

The team and indeed the manager were slated in the press after that game and the criticism was still ringing in their ears when they headed off to Italy. They were given no chance whatsoever against the World Cup holders and many predicted that they would be classic April Fools given the day that was in it.

As we know the match got off to an explosive start when Giampaolo Pazzini, the rising star of Italian football, clattered into John with his elbow and was shown the red card (somewhat harshly) as O’Shea laid on the ground with blood gushing from his face.

That incident turned the game on its head completely. Stephen Hunt produced his most mature performance for Ireland, using the ball superbly and was a threat all night to the Italians. Quite rightly he was named ‘man of the match’ by the majority of sportswriters.

His brother Noel was brought on by Giovanni Trapattoni on 62 minutes to replace his club colleague Kevin Doyle who had run himself to a standstill. Five minutes from full-time goalkeeper Shay Given fired the ball forward into the Italian half: another substitute Caleb Folan headed the ball on and Noel and Robbie Keane both went for the ball. It appeared that Noel got the first touch to stab the ball past the Italian goalkeeper, Buffon, but it was later clarified thanks to an RTE camera angle that it was Keane’s goal.

Nonetheless, speaking from Stephen’s home in England the following morning, Noel said “It was an amazing night for Stephen and myself and for all of our family”, as he got ready to report for a 1pm training session with Reading on Thursday, only a handful of hours after returning from Italy.

Oh yes, it was one of those special games indeed for our three Waterford players, the first time ever that three locals featured in a World Cup tie.