At least the phoney war is over, the fable of Mick McCarthy clothed in Merlin the Magician garb belatedly binned. There’s no need to whisper it anymore. Ireland are not a better team than Denmark or Switzerland, even if many nations of similar size and profile are.
One chance at reaching the European Championships was missed in Geneva but there’s another that can be snapped up on November 18 against Denmark. And in this expanded extravaganza, the false gnashers can be kept in cold water until a third attempt when the play-offs arrive next March.
We might even get as far as the Euros themselves to prolong the agony. Ireland have the personnel to be competitive on the international stage, even to compete at the Euro finals in 2016, yet McCarthy is the latest manager to suffer frustration with this squad.
They appeared to down tools under Martin O’Neill. McCarthy inherited a team low on morale and even further devoid of direction. The raw material needed to be moulded properly, a task he’d perfected on the club circuit.
He also got an early fillip towards his project, highlighting how this campaign is one that has needlessly crept away from their control. There was definitely the luck of the Irish, not the Northern Irish, with the draw McCarthy’s side were handed last December.
Take these possibilities, for instance. Portugal and Ukraine, England and Czech Republic or Germany and the Netherlands. Had we been unfortunate to enough be landed in the England group, there was the rising tide that is Kosovo to tackle too as the lowest seeds.
Instead, we got Gibraltar. In summation, we were fortunate, very fortunate at that. Clues as to McCarthy’s initial findings were evident back in March, the day more remembered for the beginning of the end for John Delaney rather than an opening day victory in Gibraltar.
There sitting beside the new coaching staff on the bench was Robbie Brady. This the same player who less than two years earlier was illuminating those finals in France and heading towards breaking Burnley’s transfer record.
Notwithstanding the tactical challenges of avoiding a banana skin, Brady was tipped to start. Give him a set-piece and the winger would put his hand up to the match-winner and usually deliver. Brady’s club form before and after vindicated McCarthy’s decision, as did his feat of accumulating 10 points from the opening four qualifiers.
Yet that surge to the summit was misleading, the perils of which we’re seeing in recent days. Nine points were extracted from the two lowest seeds and the last of them through a fortuitous draw in Denmark.
Age Hareide’s side, for their few frailties, should have been out of sight in Copenhagen before Shane Duffy demonstrated he was Ireland’s main attacking threat five minutes from full-time.
As the Danes showed against the limited Georgians, they have their imperfections. Their strikeforce against Switzerland at the weekend testifies to their struggles.
Middlesbrough fans weren’t crying at Martin Braithwaite’s departure in the summer; neither will be La Liga’s basement side Leganes if he’s dropped. His strike partner Andreas Cornelius, at 26, is already developing the reputation of a journeyman.
In addition, Switzerland are not the world class team Seamus Coleman referred to them as on the eve of the Geneva showdown. It’s just that Ireland underperforming team have a habit of making nations seem to be deserving of such tags.