The Long and the short of it

Ireland's Shane Long and Grant Hanley of Scotland. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

The axe swung. Experience counted for nought.

“A big call but I think it was a call that was coming,” felt Chippy. “A big call. The right call. A brave call,” insisted Eamo.

They meant Robbie, not Gilesy, but was that a fresh vulnerability in their eyes as they glanced right, into the future?

Richie Sadlier made the case for Shane Long. For pace, strength, aggression. He may as well have stated the claims of sharper suits, fresher faces and an acknowledgment that tactics sometimes play a part.

They even brought us the money shot. Footage of Robbie, beaming in the bowels of Parkhead, then pulled by the gaffer for a chat. The chat.

Sadlier his foot in early doors. Disagreement. The old-timers wanted McGeady wide. Richie felt Walters would provide more protection against Anja. “An Olympic sprinter”, warned Darragh Maloney.

“Let’s not forget he plays for Watford,” said Brady, reminding Richie he played for Millwall.

The mood reasonably bullish. Chippy went for Ireland. Eamo felt we wouldn’t be beaten. Richie comfortable enough to settle on the fence. “Draw for me.”

In the gantry, George Hamilton’s bloodlust wasn’t entirely satisfied: “All singing along to the Proclaimers. A Celtic family outing rather than a war about to break out.”

Richie lost his first battle, as McGeady stayed wide. Already George was seeing the value of Long. “These little flicks.” “Yep, them little flicks,” corrected Ronnie Whelan.

Tackles, flicks, knocks, channels. Fouls. Lots of fouls. War breaking out, George punctuating it. “Probing and prodding”. “Ebb and flow”. “Nip and tuck.”

Something lost in translation maybe, with the tactical plan. Ronnie Whelan: “Everything has to be Long. Too many long balls.”

At half-time, the word was ‘frantic”. Anja had been upgraded to “very good.” And was now “Enya”. Certainly was instrumental.

Some signs, in the studio shake-up, this was a Dunphy with a new brief to find positives? “We’ve defended brilliantly, but we’re living dangerously.” Richie: “Very little class. Fast, low-quality, local derby.” Chippy: “Blood and thunder. Nobody putting their foot on the ball.”

It wasn’t their place to say it, but the night was crying out for moral courage.

Second half. More nip, more tuck. When the goal came, George accepted “it was coming”. “Scotland get a lead they rightly deserve.”

He was soon singing 500 miles again. “It’s a long road to France and we’ve just hit a pothole.”

Ronnie couldn’t sugar-coat it. “Scotland are the much better team. We didn’t get going. Kicking long balls. It wasn’t a good performance tonight. Scotland deserved winners.”

Nor Chippy: “Our luck ran out. We didn’t play well in Georgia or Germany but rescued the situation. But we were totally outplayed. They had more guile, more intelligence, more composure. No complaints.”

Dunphy was drifting slightly from his customary stance that conservative managers put a straitjacket on Irish ingenuity. “The 90 minutes showed a gulf in quality. Robertson, Naismith, Mulgrew, passing, movement. Liam knows, because he’s worked with them and he says we don’t have enough quality.”

Still some hints at a new regime. Research: “I watched Wigan v Bolton to prepare for this match. I go to any lengths to serve.” And positives: “I thought Ireland were magnificent in a way. There was a lot of heart. Martin O’Neill is a great coach, with a great CV.”

Richie put his foot through one: “It was the ugliest game of football I’ve seen in a long time. A fair result.”

Chippy had thoughts for old comrades. For Trap: “We were hurly-burly, crashing it. I’ve yet to see method in our play, from Martin. Trapattoni was criticised for the way he played, but Martin has just continued that.”

And Gilesy. “We got hammered for what we said, on the last game, me and John and Eamon. But…analysis went out the window that night.”

The real Eamo showed up late: “It’s called football for a reason. You’ve got to get your best footballers on the pitch”.

And back in the studio?

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