Ireland haven’t even taken the field, never mind begun to huff and puff their way through the task of trying to open up the Welsh defence, and already we have a taker. It’s Richie Sadlier. He’s seen the Irish XV and he needs a stiff drink. Either that or a Valium to control his fury, which is — as is invariably the case with furies — barely concealed.
Yes, you’ve guessed it. The Irish XV is Wes-less. Wes-less and therefore inevitably artless, soulless and imagination-less. Richie is “staggered”. Richie is so staggered, indeed, that in his barely concealed fury he is moved to invoke the name of the Almighty. “Christ!”
Darragh Moloney doesn’t supply him with a glass of Brooklyn Gin. Instead Darragh asks him to apologise “for your use of the word”. A bit preachy, perhaps, but there are always viewers who want nothing more than to be offended.
It falls to Eamon Dunphy, of all people, to be the voice of moderation.
“We played Georgia and that’s where we blew this group,” he points out. “We should have gone there and won.” Missing in Tbilisi that evening? No David Meyler. No Daryl Murphy, he of the two goals last Friday. No Wes. “There’s not a person in the country who doesn’t think he shouldn’t be playing tonight,” Eamon adds. There’s so many negatives in that sentence it could be the Inter Milan team of the 1960s. Reading it back I feel in dire need of a stiff gin myself.
The home supporters nearly lift the roof off the Cardiff City Stadium with their national anthem. No Imelda Mays in the valleys, obviously. “If they play like they sing we’re in trouble,” Jim Beglin giggles.
Jim then moves across to the oven and brings out one he’s clearly baked before. “One Coleman had his leg broken back in March. Hopefully another Coleman will have his heart broken tonight.”
Wales dominate the early exchanges without getting any closer than forcing a good save from Darren Randolph following Aaron Ramsey’s shot from distance. It’s not a night for lone strikers, Jim and George Hamilton agree. Daryl Murphy is pulling a lone furrow for Ireland. Fortunately for Wales they have two men doing the same, Robson and Kanu.
Half-time. Glass half full or glass half empty, George wonders. So far so good, says Liam Brady, “but not easy viewing”. Richie is still having trouble keeping his emotions under control: “it’s woefully woeful stuff.”
Eamon is remaining cool and calm. “The longer this goes on at 0-0, the more nervous Wales become. I see a big shock here.”
What, Ireland scoring? Ireland passing the ball? Ireland bringing on Wes?
The restart. Randolph keeps the two-headed monster Robson-Kanu at bay with a save George describes as “stupendous”.
A few minutes later James McClean pops up at the other end with what will prove the winner, a beautiful clean strike with his weaker foot. That’s what it looks like he did to you and me. To George, on the other hand, he “thrusts a sword into the dragon’s heart in Cardiff”.
Rather more lyrical, you’ll agree.
And that, really, is that. Martin O’Neill spends the rest of the night jigging on the touchline, channelling his inner Davy Fitz — a barely concealed entity at the best of times where O’Neill is concerned, in fairness. Wales bring on young starlet Ben Woodburn and the not quite so young Sam Vokes, Berti’s nephew. Ramsey converts a free kick from the edge of the box but thankfully only in the rugby sense, meaning he blazes it a mile over the crossbar.
Five minutes of injury time remain to be played. It looks excessive. Ireland keep their heads nonetheless. “It’s almost like torture watching them,” says Jim. You know he’s saying it with a smile on his face. “This is as good as it gets. When you consider the circumstances, Martin O’Neill has got it right.”
That’s the theme of the night. Back in Montrose the panel are happy to eat their words and Eamon is in full philosopher-king mode. “Courage. It’s more admirable than any other quality. And we have it.”
Richie: “You can say what you like about the tactics and the entertainment but you can’t question the commitment of these players.”
Time, at last, to break out those hand-cracked juniper berries and freshly cut citrus peels. Yum! (Christ.)