There’s a hole in the RTÉ panel where John Giles used to be, a development that has moved none other than the Minister for Sport, Paschal Donohoe – clearly a man with nothing better to be doing - to ask Montrose to reconsider. (Why do politicians always feel it incumbent on themselves to throw in their tuppenceworth on such trivial matters?)
There’s a hole in the match programme where John Delaney’s thoughts on funny business in international football in general, and the machinations of those shameless egotists in Fifa in particular, had been. (Pity. The article would surely have been placed on the English Lit course at Harvard forever, more as a classic example of unconscious irony.)
And after 37 minutes there’s a hole in the middle of the Scottish defence when Robbie Brady swings in a corner that Jon Walters, clearly offside, bundles home. (Seeing as consistency demands a third parenthetical digression in as many paragraphs, here goes: with horrible predictability Twitter promptly goes into minor meltdown with a thousand amateur comedians wondering if Delaney will write a €5m cheque for the Scottish FA by way of compensation. We’ll certainly never know from the FAI accounts, will we?)
At half-time the panel are happy. Eamon Dunphy calls it “very good”, Richie Sadlier deems it “the most encouraging first-half performance we’ve seen in this qualifying campaign” and Liam Brady notes that Ireland have been getting to the ball first and playing the game in Scotland’s half. Now, Eamon declares, “we’ll see what Scotland are made of”.
We don’t have to wait long and it turns out the answer is, “Sterner stuff than Ireland anyway”. The game restarts, the visitors attack, a hole materialises in Ireland’s concentration, the ball deflects off John O’Shea and out of nowhere it’s 1-1. That is the way it stays to the final whistle.
The current standings in the table are flashed up. Poland 14 points, Scotland 11, Germany 10 (soon to be 13 as they face Gibraltar later on), Ireland nine. The quadruped has bolted. The remainder of the qualifying programme may as well double as a new series of The Living Dead, with Ireland set to zombie their way through a quota of barely meaningful fixtures.
Liam views the outcome as “a pity”, Richie as “a hammerblow”. Perhaps because he suspects the watching nation is expecting him to blow several gaskets, Eamon takes it on himself to “look at the positives first” and describes it as the best performance by Martin O’Neill’s Ireland in a competitive game.
Quickly tiring of this demonstration of the milk of human kindness, he abruptly shows his studs in a way that the old Giles – ie the Giles of Leeds United - would have approved.
“Scotland have a bit of belief. You could see we don’t really have that belief.” And on James McCarthy: “A talking horse... This guy never produces a real performance for Ireland and rarely does for Everton.” He then proceeds to have a pop in passing at Glenn Whelan, the easiest and most undeserving of targets, bizarrely claiming that “there’s a myth these are quality international players”.
Eh? What myth? Propagated by whom? This is right up there with the very daftest of Dunphy utterances. If there’s one thing nobody in the world, anywhere, ever, has said about poor Glenn Whelan, whose nickname isn’t Xavi, is that he’s a “quality international player”. The guy is a Stoke City midfielder, for God’s sake.
“We just haven’t got the player who can dictate the play in the middle of the park,” Liam laments. “Like me,” you know he’s thinking. Talk turns to the state of schoolboys football in Ireland and the need, according to Eamon, for “the kids” to learn the game “on the streets”. The prevailing emphasis on size, power and success means that “the little guys” are being frozen out, he asserts. “Like me,” you know he’s thinking.
As if the mood isn’t gloomy enough, Richie has seen the future. It may not quite be filled with the rivers of blood foreseen by Enoch Powell but it’s not gleaming with rainbows either. He’s au fait with the underage squads (Richie, not Enoch) and the FAI’s elite development schemes – “and there’s nothing coming”.
Quick, for six marks: all that’s there, according to Richie, is... what?
Yep, you’ve guessed it. “A big black hole.”