Gibraltar look to the future

The low point on Saturday evening?

Well, it said it a lot more about us than them. As goalkeeper Jordan Perez made his way to the touchline and the bench close to the hour, the Aviva Stadium rose as one in mock tribute to a man who had endured a mostly difficult time of it between the sticks.

The best fans in the world? Not on that damning piece of evidence. Gibraltar? They handled themselves with far more class, despite the concession of seven goals for the second time in just their second competitive full international.

Gibraltar’s squad is made up mostly of amateurs who play in a local league confined to one artificial pitch. In that light, Scott Wiseman’s status as a journeyman pro with Preston North End assumes heightened grandeur.

The 29-year-old qualifies for the side thanks to the fact his mother was born in Gibraltar and he has had to assume something of the daddy role in the four caps earned to date since his debut against Slovakia. “It is difficult and it is more difficult for me because I’m the one who is expected to keep concentration,” he said Saturday night. “If anything goes wrong, they are looking to me. But I don’t mind, this is why I’m here.

“It is one of the reasons why I stepped forward for Gibraltar — to be part of this, and hopefully my limited experience will help the limited experience of other people.”

For Wiseman and manager Allen Bula, it is not about the now. Seven-nil defeats are nobody’s idea of fun, but Gibraltar’s leap into the big time was always going to be followed by painful little baby steps. Bula rammed that point home two days ago. His earlier talk of making a run for the play-offs always looked ill-thought but he defended fiercely his country’s right to rub shoulders with the likes of Ireland, Poland and Germany.

“It was a tough evening but we have got to take the positives out of it. Even at five and six-nil down, we forced Ireland into a period where they had to defend deep. I said from day one we wouldn’t park the bus and that’s not just words. I think we have shown that.”

Better teams than Gibraltar have shut up shop in Dublin in the past — and profited richly against a less-than-rapier Irish attack — but Gibraltar were unfortunate not to claim a goal for their late manoeuvres towards the Irish end. Both men spoke of positives: of substitute goalkeeper Jamie Robba, who kept an improbable clean sheet, that late attacking intent and of their character in facing up to multi-million pound world-class strikers.

Yet, no words could disguise their lamentable limitations. Pub and park footballers, most called them and, though the language might be cutting and even sneering, it is hard to disagree, given events in Ballsbridge.

Bula, however, is adamant that better is to come.

“Every single nation that joined Uefa suffered heavy defeats when they started out. Given time it will be a different Gibraltar... There are many big countries out there have never won anything.”

Nevertheless there is surely coming a day when the Gibraltars and Faroe Islands and Liechtensteins of this continent will have to duke it out amongst themselves for the right to play teams of even Ireland’s calibre.

Yet, you wonder just how enjoyable it can be for men to take to the field time after time knowing that damage limitation are probably the height of their ambitions.

“I said all along it is not about the now,” said Wiseman when asked if it was a joy or a chore. “It is not about this qualification, it is about putting the experience into the young lads now for the next qualification.”


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