Gilesy had the moral courage to swim against the tide
It’s the kind of complicated, high degree of difficulty flick you really only see nowadays on the very biggest occasions. Champions league nights and major tournaments. The big time, baby.
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Ironically, the kind of low-percentage move the man you’re after would deplore. Try it too often – must give away possession for ten seconds each time – and the whole game could pass you by.
Still, you have to give Keano his say. Well then… “You can always expect a surprise with Ireland.”
Oh! Could Chiles and co have removed and decommissioned his batteries completely?
Knock it simple back to RTE, where Billo is announcing a poll result, wondering what kind of giddiness has overwhelmed us. “87% think Ireland will win, I don’t know why I’m laughing.”
Eamon Dunphy was one of them, sort of. Eamo has been on a peculiar hyper-positivity buzz since day one, passing up a tap-in on Saturday to roll out the ‘charlatans’ and ‘birdbrains’ when Ronaldo flopped and calling Gomez’s decent header “as good a goal as you will ever see”.
Liam Brady called him on it, on Friday, suggesting Dunphy was cynically building up Ireland so he could have a go at the management if we flopped. For now, at least, Eamo stuck with the long game.
“As a unit, Ireland will be greater than the sum of their parts. You have to be good to beat us.”
Gilesy, meanwhile, was serenely threading water in this tide of positivity. “I think the wave of optimism is a bit… optimistic. I’d say a draw is a good result.” Brady prayed Amen to that. “It’s going to be a real task for us to get anything.”
In the gantry, part-time meteorologist George was getting technical. “In terms of precipitation, it’s wet.” Soon the greasy pitch greeted Mandzukic’s spongy header like an old friend and we were in trouble.
“You don’t want to be beaten by a header from 16 yards,” suggested George.
We recalled the mini-dispute on Friday, when Dunphy worried that Given would need to have trained to be sharp enough for these tests. Brady pooh-poohed, insisting goalkeepers never trained that much anyway. Would half-time allow Eamo a volley or two of point-scoring?
When the equaliser came, it wasn’t one of George’s great goal-calls, drowned out as it was by a yelp from Ronnie Whelan and a rogue referee’s whistle from the crowd.
That sent the game into hibernation until Jelavic swept up another mess.
“Three minutes into the game and just before half-time, not the best time to give goals away.” A mental note to request of Ronnie Whelan, should I encounter him soon, a laminated list of his ideal concession times.
At half-time, there was no blame game, just rueful reflection on the circus concessions.
“A bit freakish,” reckoned Giles. “Two flukey goals,” said Brady.
Nor would there be any histrionics yet from Eamo. “Shay Given was unsighted. He saw it late. Just one of those things that happened. I wouldn’t blame anybody.”
Maybe Eamo is ghosting Roy again. “Shay hasn’t done much training over the last few weeks. Like most goalkeepers, he loves training.”
Soon, unfortunately, Ronnie would be adding to his growing collection of enemies on the clock.
“Terrible time to give a goal away; three minutes after the restart.”
From there, the contest evaporated into dispiriting torpor, with Ronnie incredulous that Simon Cox, not James McClean was summoned to rouse us.
“You have to say, they are a bit better than us,” signed Ronnie for a finish, after what seemed like hours of deep distrust for the football. George was rather more exasperated. “Really, it’s as bad as it gets.”
Afterwards, Gilesy, who’d been quiet all night, like a man who was wrestling with foreboding, said his piece.
“My take on Trapattoni; he says to the opposition, if you’re good enough to break us down, do it. We have, in the past, got away with it. Today was one of those days when we didn’t play well and the luck went against us. That’s the consequence, on some days, of giving the ball away, when it’s not your day.”
Brady was prepared to throw his hat at it. “I don’t think we can qualify now. We can save face by giving Spain a real good game. But we didn’t play very well tonight, which is a real sickener.”
There would be no pens thrown, but Eamo too moved his own project towards endgame.
“On the big question of Irish soccer, and the Trapattoni project; I don’t believe in it. I don’t want to be heavily critical of him. I think it’s better in all football to nurture talent. I want to see us keep the ball and play the game in a certain way.”
The final fancy flick of the night to Keano, but the move broke down again.
“A little unlucky with one or two decisions, but Croatia deserved the victory.”
As bland as much of the action – he, sadly, was the biggest surprise of the night.
First published on the Irish Examiner