Shane Long signalled his readiness for the Euro 2016 finals as the Republic of Ireland claimed a friendly draw against Holland.
The 29-year-old Southampton striker snatched a first-half poacher’s goal, his 16th in an Ireland shirt, to help extend his country’s unbeaten run to five games with just one more to play against Belarus on Tuesday evening before they head for France.
Martin O’Neill’s men had to play for long periods without the ball on a night when the Dutch enjoyed a wealth of possession, but they defended resolutely and were a threat when they did create openings, in particular from Robbie Brady’s dead-ball delivery.
Holland snatched a share of the spoils with a late Luuk de Jong header but on a night when his team had to compete with Bruce Springsteen, who was playing a sell-out show along the road at Croke Park, the Republic’s boss held a dress rehearsal for the main event next month.
O’Neill will have been happy with much of what he saw as he attempts to whittle down his squad to a final 23 and central defender Shane Duffy and striker David McGoldrick, who prospered in the hole behind the front two, were particularly impressive.
But it was Long who claimed the headlines with another display which demonstrated his growing maturity and ability to produce on the big stage, something which has for so long been Robbie Keane’s mantle.
O’Neill, like predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni, has discovered during his time in the job that his team will spent plenty of time out of possession and will need to make the most of set-pieces, especially against opposition regarded as stronger than they are.
In the circumstances, he could not have hoped for a better illustration of what will be required in France next month when Sweden, Belgium and Italy stand in the way of their hopes of progression from the group stage.
Holland, perhaps still not quite able to believe they will not be at the finals themselves, dominated for much of the opening 45 minutes but like so many of Ireland’s recent opponents, found space behind O’Neill’s rearguard at a premium.
Indeed, keeper Darren Randolph did not have a single save of note to make before the break, his biggest scare coming with six minutes of the half remaining when Quincy Promes only just failed to get to Memphis Depay’s cross, a rare contribution from the Manchester United man on the night.
By contrast, the Republic used what share of the ball they had in much more effective, if prosaic, fashion, and eventually reaped their reward.
Dutch keeper Jasper Cillessen had earlier had to cling on to Harry Arter’s deflected long-range effort and punch clear a swinging Brady free-kick, but he and his team-mates were eventually undone with half an hour gone after Virgil van Dijk conceded a corner.
Skipper John O’Shea met Brady’s ball in with a powerful header which Cillessen could only push against striker Vincent Janssen’s arm as he protected the goal-line. As Ireland appealed for a penalty, Long pounced to stab home the rebound.
The game might have been over as a contest within 10 minutes of the restart as Ireland went for the jugular.
Cillessen gratefully grasped Jonathan Walters’ close-range 50th-minute header after Jeffrey Bruma had just beaten Duffy to another Brady free-kick, and the unwitting Bruma was greatly relieved to see the ball run wide of his own goal after Brady’s cross had hit him.
The visitors escaped twice within two minutes when first central defender Duffy powered a header over from Brady’s corner and Long’s effort just cleared the bar after Arter and Walters had helped the ball on.
Holland belatedly found their feet as an attacking force as the game entered its final quarter and Bas Dost’s 77th-minute header flew wide of Randolph’s near post before fellow substitute De Jong met Jetro Willems’ cross unopposed with five minutes remaining to level.