Here We Go Again

YOU know the good times are back when the inflatable bananas reappear.

One wonders if they are vintage fruits, rescued from the attic after years of neglect, or if some enterprising types have already begun mass production in anticipation of a surge in demand next June. Either way, it is good to see them again.

Roy Keane used to rage against the Irish urge to have the craic regardless of the result but the party in Ballsbridge got going long before qualification was secured for the European Championship with the 1-1 draw against Estonia in Dublin last night.

Old favourites like Put ’Em Under Pressure were pumped out over the PA system, a new generation of fans experienced their first attempt at the Mexican Wave and punters entertained themselves by floating paper aeroplanes onto the pitch. It was that kind of evening: Giddy and childish and wonderful.

Pubs around Dublin 4 that had become used to modest bumps in trade on match days were overflowing two hours before these teams met for the second time in four days. The game itself was reduced to a mere sideshow.

How strange it was to walk up Lansdowne Road for an occasion as seismic as this unencumbered by nerves, piseogs or bad vibes.

For a change, the Aviva was more or less full. A 4-0 advantage from the first leg will have that effect.

Had Estonia scored an early goal or, God forbid, two, it may have been different but they didn’t. Last night was always going to be a chore for the visitors and a box to be ticked for the home side after Friday’s win in Tallinn. So it played out.

Ireland took the lead after 32 minutes thanks to left-back Stephen Ward, who slotted home from a corner. But the Irish shipped an equaliser when Konstantin Vassiljev’s second-half shot squirmed under Shay Given. It mattered not a jot. Trap’s Army are going to Poland and Ukraine.

“No one will fancy being drawn with us next summer,” reckoned the Irish keeper.

“Time is running out on some of us at this stage, so it’s all the more special,” added Damien Duff.

Seven months and counting.

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