Republic of Ireland representatives Leinster & Munster became the third team to qualify for the 2011 UEFA Regions' Cup after topping intermediary round Group 3.
The mini-tournament hosts went into Wednesday's third and final round of games level on four points with leaders Ligue de Normandie, but needing to beat them to finish at the section summit given the French side were ahead on goal difference. Gerry Smith's team proved more than up to the task, however, defeating Normandie 3-0 at the Tallaght Stadium in Dublin. "It's a great day for Irish football," said the coach.
Leinster & Munster had started their Group 3 campaign on 23 October with a goalless draw against Italian outfit Abruzzo – who would come second in the group – at Tolka Park. Visiting goalkeeper Pierfilippo Carfagna produced the save of the game to deny Daniel Loughran. That stalemate allowed Normandie to steal a march in the section, Emmanuel Affagard netting four times in a 6-0 victory over San Marino at Carlisle Grounds.
San Marino looked like they might be on the end of a similar result in the second set of matches on 25 October, Leinster & Munster streaking into a two-goal lead inside eight minutes. However, Smith's side could not add to that tally. At the same time a 72nd-minute Fabio Lalli equaliser rescued a point for Abruzzo in a 1-1 draw with Normandie.
With the exception of San Marino, then, all the teams went into the final matchday with a chance of finishing top. Once again, Leinster & Munster flew out of the traps, captain James Walsh's penalty giving them a ninth-minute advantage against Normandie. Bertrand Delas's men almost equalised but Adrian Walsh tipped over Alexandre Leclerc's free-kick.
James Walsh finally gave the hosts breathing space with another spot kick 11 minutes from time and after Jean Gérard Leconte was sent off in added time, Ray Whelehan scored the third. The result meant Abruzzo's 1-0 success over San Marino at the Belfield Bowl was in vain.
The Republic of Ireland will be represented at the UEFA Regions' Cup final tournament – a biennial event – for the second successive edition. Smith said: "It's a brilliant day and I think we should remember that – we have achieved something today. It's fabulous that we've won, against all the odds I might add.
"They're two great teams in Italy and France and it's great to see them, play against them and pit your wits against them, big football nations." Leinster & Munster join South Region Russia and Yednyst Plysky of Ukraine in the hat for the finals draw.
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