Irish international Stephen Ireland is more than living up to his name in his fledgling international career as Wales found out to their cost on Saturday.
Room for improvement
Prior to the historic first 'soccer' match at the stunning stadium in the modern era, Ireland had spoken of his desire to impress at international level. "My performances have not been good enough," he said. "I'm very critical of myself and I think I have a lot more to give. I'll just have to keep improving myself. Over the games that are left I'm hoping to do that, to keep scoring goals and creating chances for others and put in better performances."
On a day that Ireland put the past behind it, Stephen Ireland showed again that he has a great future. He displayed maturity beyond his years to finish calmly from Robbie Keane's pass, and his milestone goal was enough to give Ireland a third successive victory. What did the Manchester City FC midfielder think of creating history? "Going into the game I hadn't thought of it but now it has happened and the guys have been saying it, it is obviously a good achievement," he told uefa.com.
He went on to admit that the novelty of playing at Croke Park, the home of Ireland's traditional sports like Gaelic football and hurling, had affected the team. "Even though we are at home it's new to us so you can't even say it is home territory," he said. "It is great to come off it with a win and it's a great result for us." Ireland has now scored three goals in four matches for his country – including the blushes-saving winner against San Marino in February - and told the official Football Association of Ireland website: "I seem to have a happy knack of popping up at the right moment in the box to take a scoring chance but this was a different type of goal and I'm just delighted."
Ireland picked up a groin injury in the game, however, and may be forced to sit out his team's match against Slovakia in Dublin on Wednesday. His manager Stephen Staunton does not need telling how much of a loss this would be. "He is an excellent player, and is improving," he said of Ireland. "His composure and vision are excellent. He is a major asset. Anybody who can score three goals in four internationals is a key player." Staunton, already deprived of the suspended Keane for the Slovakia game, will be hoping that his talisman Ireland can fire team Ireland to another victory.