RTE panel - Eamon Dunphy, John Giles, Liam Brady

By half-time in Andorra la Vella we looked like the Irishmen who went up a mountain but came down a hill. Two early goals had lifted the fog of pessimism that had gathered around the panel before kick-off. And Billo could glory, for one night at least, in a sweet slice of vindication.

Despite the fact that he’s been hanging around these lads for half his adult life and really ought to know better by now, O’Herlihy couldn’t quite believe the scale of the negativity beforehand.

“But this is the worst team in the world,” he protested more than once, as Giles, Dunphy and Brady all countenanced a difficult, frustrating night for the Irish.

“One of the worst teams in the world,” cautioned Gilesy, ever the alarmist.

Eamo, who has often attributed six or seven great players to our ranks, depending on whether it suited his line of argument, was fretting his way through a massive downsizing operation. “Richard Dunne, who is our great player, is suspended… It’s fraught with danger for Ireland.”

And, naturally, the most easily scandalised man in Europe had a bone to pick with the selection. “The issue is; do we have the guile and skill to break down a massed defence? The fact that Coleman isn’t on the bench is absolutely scandalous. He should be on the pitch.”

“We’re playing nearly a mile high, in a manner of speaking,” offered Billo flirtatiously, but Brady wasn’t in the mood. He had pulled the short straw and set about analysing the Andorrans, a project that more or less began and ended with deciding the keeper was dodgy.

Scouring the home team sheet ourselves and knowing the panel’s occasionally less than diligent approach to research, we couldn’t help but wonder if they thought that the Gomes, Gutierrez, Garcia, Pujol, Ayala, Vieira, and  Silva listed were the real deals and not the Spanish Division 7 versions. But then you remembered that Eamo, in his time, has written half that lot off as headbangers anyway.

In any case, we’d done Dunphy a massive disservice. This time the research had been done in the field. “I’ve been to Andorra actually. It’s not that bad. The Tour de France goes round there.” Which was helpful, even if we can’t fully appreciate the horrors Eamo must have encountered on his stay in the prosperous principality.

“They’re tough people. They fight for their lives.”

He’s right about the latter, you have to admit, since they do have the highest life expectancy in the world, but even that didn’t convince Billo they could hold on for 90 minutes against a team drawn from the Premier League.

“I think, with respect, there’s an awful lot of nonsense spoken about this game. Surely there’s no question of us not winning.”

To be fair to Billo, come half-time he sugar-coated the told-you-sos. “Well, we said they were hopeless.” But Gilesy was prepared to hold his hand up. “You were right Bill. But the Irish team went about it exactly right. You don’t expose these teams as the worst in the world unless you go the right way about it.”

Dunphy was already gathering his betting dockets for home. “We go on now to Tuesday’s match against Armenia and that’s a big occasion.”

The Irish team, perhaps a little deflated by word from Zilina, didn’t appear to retain much interest in the second half either.

“It was an endurance test in the second half,” admitted Billo afterwards, his smugness wearing off. While Eamo had remembered there was another big game on the immediate horizon.

“I’m glad I didn’t have to get up at half-five in the morning for it.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner

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