Republic of Ireland 3-1 Bulgaria: Browne, Long and Collins score in friendly win

Republic of Ireland secured a 3-1 friendly win over Bulgaria as a trio of players opened their accounts on the international stage.

In the second half, Alan Browne put Ireland ahead when he slotted into an empty net after Ronan Curtis' initial shot was spilled.

In the second half, Alan Browne put Ireland ahead when he slotted into an empty net after Ronan Curtis' initial shot was spilled.   -  Getty Images

Alan Browne, Kevin Long and James Collins all scored their first international goals as Republic of Ireland eased to a 3-1 friendly win over Bulgaria.

In a match where all the goals came in the second half, Browne put Ireland ahead when he slotted into an empty net after Ronan Curtis' initial shot was spilled.

Bulgaria equalised through Ivelin Popov's spot-kick after John Egan, who captained Ireland for the first time, gave away a penalty.

But a Long header and a close-range finish from Collins gave the host a comfortable victory in Dublin.

The result means Ireland remains unbeaten in Mick McCarthy's second stint as manager.

McCarthy made 10 changes from the side which drew 1-1 with Switzerland in its last Euro 2020 qualifier and awarded first caps to five players.

McCarthy will not extend Republic of Ireland stay beyond Euro 2020

McCarthy has ruled out staying on beyond Euro 2020 despite an impressive run of results since being reappointed.

McCarthy replaced Martin O'Neill in charge of Ireland in November 2018 for his second spell, having managed the country between 1996 and 2002. He is unbeaten in eight matches, with the country also top of Group D in Euro 2020 qualifying.

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Republic of Ireland coach Mick McCarthy   -  Getty Images

 

The Football Association of Ireland's plan is for McCarthy, 60, to hand over the reins to Under-21 coach Stephen Kenny when his tenure comes to an end after Euro 2020.

And when asked if there was a chance his contract would be extended if Ireland was to qualify for the tournament, McCarthy responded with an emphatic "no" and then refused to be drawn much further on the subject.

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"You know the situation. I've just said no," McCarthy said.

"Hopefully we qualify for the Euros and it [the succession plan] will be seen as a really good decision."

"Ultimately the result pleased me the most," McCarthy said. "Josh Cullen deserved man of the match – he was excellent. 

"Alan Browne was also excellent. I loved James Collins' performance when he came on. Jack Byrne lit the place up with his forward passing and created two goals."

McCarthy also revealed he will ask left-back Stephen Ward to come out of international retirement for the side's crunch Euro 2020 qualifier against Georgia next month.

Ward, 34, retired from Ireland duty in March after he won 50 caps and represented his country at both Euro 2012 and 2016.

However, with first-choice left-back Enda Stevens suspended for Ireland's trip to Georgia, McCarthy will ask the Stoke City defender to step in.

"Stephen might tell me to get lost and he is retired," added McCarthy, who used midfielder Conor Hourihane at left-back against Bulgaria.

"But if I want him, he might just put his boots on one more time.

"James McClean is probably one of the best options if I don't have a recognised left-back.

"Hourihane had no chance at left-back ever. I played him to give him 65 minutes."

Goalkeeper Mark Travers and midfielder Josh Cullen started while midfielder Jack Byrne, striker Collins and goalkeeper Kieran O'Hara all came on in the second half.

A low-key first half saw just one attempt on target from both sides with Bulgaria posing the greatest threat from set-piece situations.

The home side took the lead 11 minutes into the second half when Curtis' long-range strike was fumbled by Hristo Ivanov and Browne tapped home.

Bulgaria equalised from the penalty spot after Cyrus Christie got himself in a tangle and Egan brought down Bozhidar Kraev.

Popov confidently struck his effort high into the net, giving Travers no chance. However, Ireland rallied and sealed the victory with two late goals from substitutes.

Long headed in Byrne's corner and then Enda Stevens' low cross was turned in by the sliding Collins.

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What does it mean? After eight for McCarthy 

After a dramatic late equaliser against Switzerland, this match might have been something of an anti-climax for Ireland.

Against a Bulgaria side which has not won a game for 11 months, Ireland was typically disciplined before a late flourish put a gloss on the scoreline.

McCarthy will be happy he got the chance to take a look at some players on the fringes of his squad and increased his unbeaten run since returning to manage Ireland to eight games.

Hourihane comfortable at left-back

With Stevens suspended for next month's qualifier in Georgia, McCarthy switched Conor Hourihane from midfield to left-back. The Aston Villa man slotted into the position with ease which solves one of McCarthy's selection worries for the trip to Tbilisi.

Ivanov's international career over after one cap?

Journeyman Bulgaria goalkeeper Ivanov won his first cap at the age of 37, but it may well prove to be his only appearance. The grey-haired shotstopper should have saved Curtis' initial shot which allowed Browne to score and flapped at a cross for Long's header.

Key Opta Facts

- Republic of Ireland is unbeaten in its last eight games (W4 D4); its longest run without a defeat since between May 2011 and June 2012 (15 games).

- Bulgaria is winless in its six previous visits to Republic of Ireland in all competitions (P6 W0 D3 L3).

- Republic of Ireland scored three goals in an international game for the first time since June 2017, when it won 3-1 against Uruguay in a friendly.

- Alan Browne netted his first senior goal for Republic of Ireland, in what was his first home start for the national side.


What's next?

Ireland travels to Georgia for a crunch Euro 2020 Group D qualifier on October 12 and then faces Switzerland the following Tuesday.

Bulgaria is also in qualification action with an away trip to Montenegro in Group A on Friday 11 October before hosting England in Sofia three days later.

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