And so the great day dawns on a bitterly divided nation, writes Enda McEvoy
England are in a World Cup semi-final and the bitterly divided nation is… Ireland, of course. Are we, on the day Harry and Megs visited Croke Park, cheering for them?
Are we — remember Limerick and all that — cheering agin’ them? Are we unable to make up our minds one way or the other?
In the RTÉ studio, it’s 2-1. Eamon Dunphy reckons Croatia don’t have — Favourite Dunphy Trope Coming Up Warning! — the character for it.
Liam Brady opts for Croatia but “wouldn’t be unhappy” if they didn’t win, adding that Gareth Southgate has made England “very likeable”.
Damien Duff fancies Sterling to end his goal drought and the Lions to roar.
Over to Moscow. Dutch referee Danny Makkelie — Claude’s cousin, doubtless — on VAR duty. England in white. The stripes in white blasting out Seven Nation Army.
How much in royalties have Jack White and his sister Meg made over the past three weeks, one wonders.
Sterling sings the national anthem, doubtless anxious to stave off the next phase of the Sun’s campaign of hate against him should he be sighted not singing it, and within five minutes Southgate’s likeable lads are one up thanks to Trippier’s free kick.
The first half is all theirs.
Kane hits the post from two feet. Lingard is close with one he might have done better with.
Ray Houghton amends that to “could be out of sight”.
They’re cheering in Hyde Park and in Letterfrack, Kane’s ancestral home.
They’re very nearly cheering in Montrose, so impressed are the panel with England’s performance.
Eamon lauds their “nervelessness”. Liam says they’re “well able” for Croatia’s physicality. Damien declares that Croatia look flat and tired and predicts Kane’s miss won’t bother him in the slightest. Darragh takes to wondering where Modric and Rakitic have been.
It’s Eamon, being Eamon, who issues the call to arms. England have to go and hunt a second goal, he asserts.
For all his meticulous planning, Southgate clearly missed a trick here. He should have had Eamon in the dressing room to give the half-time oration.
The action resumes and gradually we find out where Luka is.
He’s living on the ground floor and directing the traffic. The men in blue have upped it.
Then a cross is flashed in from the right and Perisic gets ahead of Trippier and Walker at the back post to equalise.
The post denies Perisic a second goal a few minutes later and England manage to make it to the final whistle.
“Gruelling and compulsive,” agrees Damien. It’s going to go to penalties, isn’t it?
Mandzukic pounces in the 109th minute and that’s that. George: “England’s dream has died in Moscow!”
Back in Montrose they’re splitting adjectives — England have been “admirable” rather than “marvellous”, Liam insists — but the credit for the right prediction belongs to only one man. Eamon reckoned the Croatians lacked character; Liam reckoned they didn’t and Liam was right.
Eamon, never one to forsake an opportunity for some very public sackcloth and ashes (he’s well used to it at this stage, of course): “They answered me in a big way. I thought England’s strength of character would be decisive.
The exact opposite happened.”
A momentous day ends with one problem solved. Nobody has to agonise now about cheering for England next Sunday.