Monday, October 10, 2005

You Just Keep Me Hanging On

I envy the Scots you know. All that despondency and humiliation, then a brief restoration of pride and hope, followed very considerately by the humane act of elimination, a swift and clinical home defeat, no mess, and the nation can go about its business again.

We on the other hand, after several years agonising and searching for the hidden soul of this Irish football team, watching them attempt to negotiate a Group Four which has turned out not so much an elite international qualifying section, more like a bunch of scuttered winos scuffling over a discarded kebab, are strung along another few days at least.

The only thing on Saturday out of keeping with the rest of our qualifying campaign was the perplexing absence of a feebly donated Cypriot equaliser. I lie. We were actually much worse on Saturday evening than on those previous occasions when parity was snatched from the jaws of supremacy.

Reports in today’s papers suggest that Brian Kerr’s toughest post-match questions came not from his old pals in the Irish media but from a Cypriot press apoplectic at the injustice of it all. Viewed out of context, by our old friend the visiting Martian perhaps, the first half had, at times, the appearance of a footballing lesson from the home side. They stretched Ireland at will, pinging diagonal balls behind a discombobulated John O’Shea, and using the wings with élan.

But the sheer ineptitude of Ireland all over the park, in the first half especially, was staggering. In defence of Brian Kerr during the week, his agent Fintan Drury (whose right to comment on football matters, while no less than my own, I feel is diminished by his role in the fate of Liam Miller, who two years ago was excelling in Champions League football for Celtic and progressing nicely in the international set-up, until his dream move to Manchester United Reserves and glory nights against Stockport County, and international irrelevancy) offered up the excuse that the manager was hamstrung by the paucity of his playing resources. A fair point, in terms of the lack of leaders and strong characters in the squad.

The incompetence of Saturday’s display, however, the failure to retain possession, the ham-fisted defending, the absence of pressing and closing down of a Cypriot team whose failure to score might be explained by their surprise at the ease of their own dominance, all these were blemishes from players capable of much better.

God bless Shay Given.

So are we enduring a tortuous stay of execution, until a Swiss team buoyant from doing precisely what we were incapable of doing at home against France puts us out of our misery on Wednesday, adding a last foul memory to the diminishing glory of Lansdowne Road’s annals? Or will we summon up the unlikely resolve to make a play-off, and allow our little hearts to glow hopefully at the thoughts of a magical summer, until some bully like Spain or Turkey puts us back in our place?

I’ll cheer this lot on as usual on Wednesday, and won’t skimp on support until such time as our qualifying fate is decided, but there’s still a little part of me that envies the Scots and the swift decisiveness of a Belorussian blade.


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5:03 p.m.  

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