Gary Connaughton reporting from the Aviva Stadium
The moment came in only the fourth minute of last night's game.
Jack Byrne, a 23-year old player playing his trade in the League of Ireland, picked up the ball around 30 yards from the New Zealand goal. In front of him he saw the incisive run of 17-year old Troy Parrott, a player with one senior club appearance to his name.
Byrne would go on to loft an incredible pass over the top of the defence, where his teammate would take it down on the run before attempting to chip it over the goalkeeper. While Parrott was marginally offside on that occasion, it is perhaps a glimpse into the future.
The win over New Zealand was not your typical Ireland performance. There are many reasons for that. It would be disingenuous to not consider the calibre of the opposition, an international side ranked 121st in the world who have not played a FIFA sanctioned game for 18 months.
And yet, that was not the sole reason. After all, Ireland were absolutely dire in two games against Gibraltar, a team ranked 196th in FIFA's standings. Georgia, the 90th placed side, outplayed Ireland and got a draw only last month.
Opposition matters, but you still have to play football. It doesn't happen by accident.
Ireland managed it last night. Some of the stuff they played was the best we have seen in the second Mick McCarthy era. The passing was incisive and purposeful, the movement was crisp, there was a sense of freedom about everything the players did.
Let's talk about the midfield three.
Josh Cullen, Jack Byrne, and Alan Browne were exquisite. They played in the type of fluid manner that is completely alien to an Irish international team.
Cullen looks set to be part of the first team for years to come. He is tenacious in the tackle, calm on the ball, and an organiser. He demands more from those around him, leading by example. He was immense.
Alan Browne, who looked lost in both of his appearances last month, was much more accomplished in possession. He pulled off a number of eye-catching flicks and first time passes in the opening period, generally playing with the type of purpose he was lacking in both Tbilisi and Geneva. He was not weighed down.
Then there's Jack Byrne, the player many said had no chance of making an impact at this level. He was the best player on the pitch in the first half and it wasn't all that close. He demanded the ball from his teammates, then going on to play beautiful first time passes to wear down the opposition.
That trio are all 24-years old or younger.
Let's talk about two teenagers, Lee O'Connor and Troy Parrott.
After a rocky start to his international debut at only 18-years old, it would have been very easy for O'Connor to retreat into his shell. He did the opposite, showing even more for the ball. He grew as the game went on, with his cross for Callum Robinson's goal a fitting way to cap off his performance.
Then you have Parrott. He's the youngest player to make his debut for Ireland since Robbie Keane, but he certainly didn't look out of place. He was up for the challenge of going toe-to-toe with Winston Reid, a physically imposing defender who has been in the Premier League for over nine years.
The Spurs youngster displayed fantastic movement throughout, even if a gilt-edge chance did not come his way. It was his determination that made Maguire's goal, knocking a Kiwi defender off the ball before laying it off for his teammate.
Sean Maguire, Callum Robinson, Derrick Williams are also players well short of their primes who performed incredibly well.
Attractive football, played with bravery by a young team. With an exciting manager to be and U21 team also waiting in the wings, it points towards a bright future.
This also begs raises so many questions about the present. Why can't we see performances such as this one on a more frequent basis? Again the opposition is a factor, but Ireland so rarely play good football regardless of who they come up against.
It could be a matter of fear.
Mick McCarthy was brought in with one goal, to get us to the Euros. That tunnel vision has contributed to the dire football we have seen during the campaign. We can't risk not being at the Euros, which means we can't take risks on the pitch.
The results are clear to see:
- Six goals in seven qualification games
- A conservative game plan that prioritises defending and treat attacking as an afterthought
- Conservative team selection that has rendered form essentially meaningless
We are afraid of failure and that stifles the players. The ironic thing is that this mentality hurtles us ever close to the unthinkable scenario of not featuring in a major tournament on home soil.
The shackles are unlikely to come off for the Denmark game. Mick McCarthy will revert to the well tested methods that have gotten us to this point, both in terms of team selection and tactics. After all, this is essentially the scenario he has been plotting all along.
It's a shame. Some players on that pitch proved they are capable of bringing us in a different direction. In a different regime, they would be given the chance to do it on the biggest stage.
McCarthy all but said that those who featured tonight would not feature against Denmark. That is unlikely to have changed despite the performance. In many ways, that sums all of the failings of the past nine months.