The great day has dawned but the panel are worried. They’re worried for any number of reasons. Let us count the ways.
The heat. The humidity. Ireland’s four-day turnaround compared to France’s seven-day break. Ireland’s 5,000 fans in Lyon compared to France’s 45,000 fans. The likelihood that the referee will favour the hosts. Payet, the Hammer with the hammer foot. Pogba. Griezmann. Kante. You get the picture.
Just in case viewers feel like going behind the sofa, Darragh Maloney says soothingly, Liam Brady can offer grounds for cautious optimism. Aerial bombardment, he suggests. Evra “can be got at”. Lloris, unlike a certain far-off Spurs predecessor from Down, doesn’t like coming for crosses. Koscielny isn’t great in the air either.
Being pragmatic about it, Eamon Dunphy opines, France “might do us badly. But we have hope in our hearts as well.”
We also have some notables in the soft seats in Lyon. John and Emma, naturally, the nation’s sweethearts. Michael D. And look, there’s Shane Ross, wearing an Ireland scarf and belting out Amhrán na bhFiann. Now there’s a sentence I never imagined I’d type.
A minute in. Go, George Hamilton. “Ireland lead in Lyon! What a start! What a perfect start!” At least the referee isn’t a homer anyway. One item fewer on the worry list.
Ireland, far from retreating into their shells, proceed to play brilliantly during the first half. Shane Long, the Gortnahoe Griezmann, is not so much getting at Evra as poking the entire French defence into a kind of frazzled insecurity. So composed are the underdogs that George and Jim Beglin take to having what can only be described as a whispery, free-jazz interlude. Jim raises the subject of He Who Must Not Be Named and George bites.
Jim: “We had French people saying sorry to us on finding out we were Irish.” George: “The porter in the hotel the other day too.” We are 45 minutes away from exorcising the memory of Stade de France 2009.
Half-time finds the panel almost giddy. Ireland have been “by far the better team”, John announces. Moved to reach for superlatives, Eamon deems the performance to be better than Giants Stadium against Italy and bettered only by the night against Russia in Hannover. “I think we’ll score again, I really do,” Liam declares.
First there’s the small matter of the inevitable French storm to be weathered in the opening 15 minutes of the new half. Turns out it isn’t weathered. Griezmann equalises after 57. Griezmann scores again on the hour. Francois Hollande is on his feet in celebration, presumably having spotted some attractive young actress a few seats down. Then again, maybe he’s just caught sight of Emma. “Two goals in three minutes and the world is turned upside down,” George laments.
Shane Duffy is red-carded with 25 minutes left. There will only be one winner here. Liam’s belief in a second Irish goal was misplaced, just like James McClean’s cutback was with the score at 1-1. Still, there are worse outcomes than honourable defeats, much as Roy Keane would inveigh furiously against the notion.
Back in studio they’re in full-on more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger mode. Eamon “doesn’t want to spoil this happy occasion by being too rigorous” but blames Duffy for jumping in on Giroud for Griezmann’s second. “John O’Shea should never have been left out.”
The fans, according to Liam, “will look back on a really good experience, unlike four years ago, but it’s one that got away. I really think so.”
Seamus Coleman pops up with Tony O’Donoghue and can barely speak, with the disappointment. Olivier Giroud pops up moments later and offers kind words about Ireland and their fans.
We won’t have Paris but at least we’ll always have Lille.
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