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Tie Feels Like a Win to Ireland

June 02, 2002|Mike Penner

The longest week in Ireland Coach Mick McCarthy's life concluded Saturday with 45 minutes he wished would never end.

After sparring with and sending home his captain, Roy Keane, and touching off a nationwide controversy that eventually saw Prime Minister Bertie Ahern intercede and try to mediate, McCarthy finally got back to the business of soccer with Ireland's World Cup opener against highly regarded Cameroon in Niigata, Japan.

For 45 minutes, Keane's absence seemed palpable, with Cameroon controlling play and scoring in the 39th minute, a goal from striker Patrick Mboma.

But after some harsh words at halftime, McCarthy watched his team equalize in the 52nd minute, hit the post once, threaten repeatedly and send the Cameroonians to their locker room grateful to hold on to a 1-1 draw at Big Swan Stadium.

"I've had the hardest week possible," McCarthy said afterward, "but coming into the game today was a blessed relief. It's nice to be walking away without being beaten."

In truth, the Irish were unlucky not to have won. After Matt Holland's skidding strike inside the left post evened the score, Robbie Keane hit the post, a low-level cross from Gary Breen nearly produced a Cameroonian own goal and substitute Steven Reid had Cameroon goalkeeper Boukar Alioum scrambling to palm Reid's late free kick just over the crossbar.

"Any team would miss a world-class player like Roy Keane," Holland said, "but we have no choice, and I think we did well. [McCarthy] told us not to waste two years of hard work in the space of one game. It worked and we responded."

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