Enda McEvoy reflects on how the game - and punditry - played out on TV.
Joyous tidings. Pepsi Sister arrived home from New York this morning – ie Friday am – with a bottle of impeccably hipsterish Brooklyn Gin for your correspondent. Small-batch. Hand-crafted. Hand-cracked juniper berries and freshly cut citrus peels. Maaan.
I’m looking forward to putting on a plaid shirt, growing a beard and opening the bottle around 10pm, due reward to self for having had to endure Ireland v Moldova. The obvious worry is that I may end up opening it after half an hour of mind-numbing tedium. Perhaps Moldova won’t be that bad. Perhaps Ireland will be.
Less than joyous tidings. It’s finished 1-0 in Tbilisi. There’s a Bale out for Wales but it doesn’t matter, meaning there’s no bailout for Ireland. Martin O’Neill is unfazed. The Welsh victory “doesn’t make any difference”, he declares. “We have to win our matches.”
Despite being interviewed by Tony O’Donoghue, the manager is calm and polite. Probably comes from his new contract. Real Madrid, Juventus and Athlone Town must be gutted at being gazumped by the FAI.
Will we win our matches? Damien Duff warns that “calm heads” will be needed tonight. Richie Sadlier predicts “a frustrating night” and wonders in passing why the FAI didn’t wait until Tuesday morning to announce the manager’s contract extension. Presumably they were banking on a victory against Moldova, rated 156th in the world, behind such powerhouses as Chinese Taipei, Chad and the Maldives.
There’s a minute’s applause for Jimmy Magee and, appropriately, Ireland’s start is different class. Stephen Ward launches a throw into the mixer, a scramble follows and Daryl Murphy pounces from close range. The spirit of Jack Charlton will never die, it seems. One minute and 46 seconds have elapsed.
Moldova are used to defending, George Hamilton tells us. “That’s their stock in trade.” Ireland’s stock in trade is attacking, he naturally doesn’t add. But tonight it’s different. Eighteen minutes in and George is moved, with ample justification, to reach for the phrase “What a goal!” Wes Hoolahan on the right rakes the ball out to Ward, marauding down the left. The cross finds Murphy, who puts it back across the visiting goalie and into the corner of the net. What A Goal indeed. For a brief moment it’s just like watching Brazil, or at any rate Brazil the way they used to be. No need for gin – not even hipster Brooklyn gin – with this on the telly.
Half-time. Liam Brady is “well pleased”. The second goal, he adds, was “as good a goal as I’ve seen Ireland score in this campaign”. If Darragh Maloney were the cynical type he’d surely point out that the competition for best Irish goal in this campaign – nine before tonight - wasn’t exactly hot. Darragh isn’t and doesn’t.
Talk turns to the issue of how soon in the second half Ireland can begin to make substitutions with Cardiff next Monday in mind. Richie warns against “doing anything silly”. The teams resume. The hosts don’t do anything silly but they don’t do anything quickly either. George and Ronnie Whelan are soon bemoaning the lack of pace and urgency. After an hour Moldova lead 7-1 on the corners count, their supporters are making noise on the Havelock End and Ronnie is fearing “a long second half”.
It’s long alright, except in a satisfactory way. Moldova, as Richie observes afterwards, “are 150-whatever in the world for a reason”. The closing 30 minutes prove slightly less eventful than the average production of Waiting for Godot. You were waiting for goals? Silly of you.
No matter. “It’s a cup final in Cardiff on Monday,” George trumpets at the final whistle. A cup final in which, Callum O’Dowda points out when interviewed moments later, James McClean and Robbie Brady will be eligible to participate. And Wales won’t have You Know Who.
“A job well done in the first half, a job done in the second half,” avers Richie with a splendid grasp of oratorical antithesis. “O’Dowda did really well. Nice debut for Seanie Maguire, hopefully one for the future. A really positive night.” A really good platform for Cardiff, Liam agrees.
There’s no getting around the Bale Out thing. “The one world-class player in the whole group,” Damien agrees. If Ireland are Wales minus Bale, on Monday the home team will be Wales minus Bale too. Ireland have to go there and win. That’s not such a bad thing either.
Me, I’m already scenting the juniper berries and citrus peels.
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