Mick McCarthy saluted match-winner Conor Hourihane after seeing him fire the Republic of Ireland to the top of their Euro 2020 qualifying group.
The Aston Villa midfielder capped an impressive individual display with a superb free-kick to hand Ireland a 1-0 win over Group D rivals Georgia at the Aviva Stadium.
Ireland turned in a much-improved display after labouring to victory over group minnows Gibraltar by the same score on Saturday, and Hourihane, who has taken over dead-ball duties from Robbie Brady under the new manager, was singled out for particular praise.
McCarthy said: “Obviously, I’m delighted because his performance on Saturday was excellent, tonight his deliveries his free-kicks and corners were good.
“The goal was something special, wasn’t it? I’m pleased for him because I’ve always believed in him and thought he was a good player.
“I tried to sign him, but we didn’t have any money and he went elsewhere.”
Hourihane’s cause was helped in no small part by the presence of vastly-experienced club-mate Glenn Whelan alongside him.
Eyebrows were raised when the 35-year-old was handed an 86th cap after his international career had appeared to draw to a close under last boss Martin O’Neill, but his poise in the middle of the field allowed those around him to prosper.
McCarthy said: “He was absolutely remarkable. For 35, it’s a testimony to how well he has looked after himself. I thought he had a really, really good game. He started us playing and he broke things up.”
The Republic dominated much of a game which was at one point halted briefly when fans protesting against outgoing Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney threw tennis balls on to the pitch.
Play restarted with Hourihane’s decisive free-kick, although it took a fine save in first-half stoppage time to deny Valerian Gvilia an equaliser and a post to keep out Jaba Kankava’s late strike.
The win, coupled with Denmark’s 3-3 draw in Switzerland, left Ireland clear at the top of the group and exactly where they hoped they would be with sterner tests to come.
Asked about the result in Basel, McCarthy said: “It was a good result for us. They might cut each other’s throats and get a couple of draws, who knows?
“But we have to play other teams and beat them, so it doesn’t bother me. I can’t affect what they do.”
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