Giovanni Trappatoni’s team withstood a barrage of Hungary attacks at a rain-soaked Ferenc Puskas Stadium, although they created some good chances of their own on the counter attack.
Mainz striker Adam Szalai and Dynamo Moscow winger Balazs Dzsudzsak were denied by some excellent goalkeeping by Shay Given and half-time replacement Keiren Westwood, while Stephen Hunt cleared Imre Szabics’s goal-bound drive off the line in the closing stages.
The Irish also had some good opportunities go to waste, with Bolton Wanderers keeper Adam Bogdan kept busy by the likes of Robbie Keane and Jonathan Walters, with the latter additionally missing two good headed chances after coming on as a second-half substitute.
Despite a fine defensive performance, the Irish will need to improve their ball retention if they are to make an impact on a European Championship group that includes Italy, Croatia and holders Spain.
The main purpose of the match was to fine-tune Ireland’s starting XI ahead of next Sunday’s Group C opener against Croatia, and particularly to road-test Given and John O’Shea after the pair missed training with injuries.
Despite atrocious conditions that saw kick-off delayed by 20 minutes, both came through the match well, with Given agile and reactive to keep out a deflected shot by Dzsudzsak, and defender O’Shea regularly making surging runs from right-back as he lasted until full-time.
Given was the busier of the two keepers in the first half, keeping out two more Dzsudzsak efforts, while Szalai dithered on a couple of occasions when he should have shot early.
While Hungary were dominating possession, the Irish did threaten on the break with Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff both direct and clever with their running but a touch sloppy with their deliveries.
The best first-half opportunity fell to Keane, who drilled a left-foot shot that Bogdan did well to parry, but it was mostly an exercise in defensive resistance as the Irish looked particularly vulnerable in the full-back positions.
Having said that, O’Shea was a threat from set-pieces while Stephen Ward compensated for his occasional positional naivety with a wonderful sliding block on Szalai, who hesitated after putting himself clean through with a turn on Richard Dunne.
The second half was a more even affair, as Walters came on to create problems for the hosts with his physicality and willingness to chase lost causes.
He forced a smart stop from Bogdan after pinging a low drive in from the right, while fellow sub Simon Cox also tested the flame-haired shot-stopper with a similar effort.
Further boosts for Ireland were the form of Stephen Hunt, who replaced Duff in the second half and caused problems with his corner deliveries and tireless running, with the Wolves winger also hacking the ball off the line after Westwood – who made an excellent save from Szabai – was beaten by Szabic’s low shot through a crowded box.
Walters should have scored with his trademark aerial ability, but headed wide on one occasion before missing the ball completely in the final minute of normal time.
Hungary should have won it at the death when Szabics sent sub Krisztian Nemeth clean through, but the former Liverpool forward – currently at Waalwijk in Holland – scuffed his finish weakly at Westwood seconds before the final whistle.
The draw also heralds a continuation in Ireland’s fine defensive record – they have only conceded three times in their last 14 matches – although they will need to be more clinical if they are to get a win in their three group games in Poland.