Nerve-wrack­ing view­ing as Ire­land do it the hard way

Bray People - - SPORT - DAVE DEV­EREUX

OVER THE past num­ber of years ‘In­side Right’ has re­li­giously taken his place in the stand in Lans­downe Road or Croke Park for Ire­land’s qual­i­fy­ing games for the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships or World Cup, but on Satur­day cir­cum­stances dic­tated that the match against Mace­do­nia would have to be watched from the com­fort of the sitting room couch.

Ah well, at least the jour­ney was a short one, from the kitchen to the sofa in­stead of the usual 200-mile round trip and, judg­ing by the sparse at­ten­dance, many other reg­u­lars were watch­ing from a sim­i­lar van­tage point.

‘In­side Right’ took up his po­si­tion in front of the TV at about twenty past seven, with a can of lager in hand and bowl of crisps at the ready, in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a good show­ing from the boys in green.

To make things a tad more in­ter­est­ing, yours truly de­cided to place a small wa­ger on the ac­tion.

Al­though par­tial to the odd flut­ter on the gee gees, you could count on one hand the num­ber of bets yours truly has placed on soc­cer.

Ire­land at 8/15 was a touch skimpy at the kind of mod­est stakes we’re talk­ing about so the not so brave de­ci­sion was taken to dou­ble them up with ‘dead certs’ Greece to beat Euro­pean min­nows Malta, mak­ing it about an even money shot - surely to God that leg of the bet couldn’t go west.

When see­ing the small crowd that had turned out, largely due to fi­nan­cial hard­ships, ‘In­side Right’ didn’t mind miss­ing out on the live at­mos­phere quite as much and wouldn’t have been ‘treated’ to Rob­bie Keane’s stir­ring ren­di­tion of Amhrán na bhFiann had we been in D4 rather than the sunny south-east.

The sound man surely could have shown a bit of deco­rum and turned the vol­ume down a deci­bel or two for that - the Ire­land cap­tain’s at­tempts at singing made Dustin the Tur­key sound like Lu­ciano Pavarotti.

Thank­fully Rob­bie’s bet­ter at putting the ball in the net than singing sweetly.

With the Greece match start­ing 15 min­utes be­fore the Ire­land one, a quick check of tele­text showed that the flood­gates had yet to be prized open by the for­mer Euro­pean cham­pi­ons, but no sweat, it was surely only a mat­ter of time, wasn’t it?

When the fired-up Ai­den McGeady shot Ire­land ahead with lit­tle more than a minute on the clock it looked as if we were in for an easy night - feet up and lounge back as an­other can was cracked open.

When Rob­bie Keane availed of an­other gift-wrapped present from Mace­do­nian ‘keeper Edin Nuredi­noski mid­way through the half it ap­peared to be plain sail­ing and even though see­ing the un­for­tu­nate Kevin Doyle limp­ing off early in the game was a blow, it looked as if Ire­land would man­age just fine with­out the ser­vices of the cur­rent player of the year.

With the Mace­do­nian net­min­der per­form­ing in Frank Spencer-es­que fash­ion, yours truly was shout­ing ‘shoot’ at the tele­vi­sion any time an Ir­ish player got within an asses roar of the goal, but un­for­tu­nately they didn’t heed the couch potato in­struc­tions of­ten enough.

An­other nim­ble glance at the tele­text when a break in play al­lowed showed the Greeks had still failed to make the break­through with the game ap­proach­ing half-time, but still no need for panic - a tiring Malta were bound to be as por­ous as a clapped-out colan­der in the sec­ond-half.

Then came the first mo­ment of real concern when Ivan Trichkovski de­ceived Richard Dunne and stylishly slot­ted past Keiren West­wood. The calm waters had ex­pe­ri­enced the first rip­ple.

Here we go again - could Ire­land’s old habit of fail­ing to put a game to bed come back to haunt them?

The early ex­changes in the sec­ond­half didn’t ex­actly do a whole lot to re­store the brit­tle con­fi­dence, with the mid­field pair­ing of Dar­ron Gib­son and Glenn Whe­lan seem­ingly in­ca­pable of string­ing two passes to­gether.

Mace­do­nia’s Boban Grn­charov should have got his march­ing or­ders for a hor­ren­dous high tackle on Shane Long, which would have made life a whole lot eas­ier, but ref­eree Ist­van Vad bot­tled it and only is­sued a yel­low card.

The chal­lenge would have been more in keep­ing with a Jackie Chan flick than a soc­cer in­ter­na­tional and, with the Read­ing striker need­ing stitches to he head and ear, it’s in­cred­u­lous that the man in the mid­dle didn’t deem it se­ri­ous enough for a red card.

Time for a large gulp of beer as on 75 min­utes the lively Trichkovski got an­other clear sight of goal but thank­fully West­wood kept his side ahead with a great block.

The tele­text was still say­ing that Greece were dead­locked with Malta - surely there must be a prob­lem with the RTE up­dates, so the lap­top was switched on to see what was re­ally hap­pen­ing.

A quick search re­vealed that, with 83 min­utes gone, it was still in­deed score­less, and then disas­ter struck, as Socratis Pa­pas­tathopou­los was sent off with six min­utes left.

Yours truly would have cursed him up in knots, but with the length of his name and a few cans con­sumed by this stage, the proper pro­nun­ci­a­tion was a bridge too far.

It looked as if ‘In­side Right’s’ ef­forts at gam­bling was turn­ing into a Greek tragedy, but when all looked lost then came the sweet­est sal­va­tion.

A header from Vas­silis Toro­sidis with the last touch of the game helped the ten men claim a dra­matic win that moved them to the top of Group F, and more im­por­tantly it could im­prove this writer’s bett­ting bal­ance by a cou­ple of dig­its. Vas­silis you beauty! Was it ever in doubt?

Part one in the bag, now Ire­land just had to hold out for lit­tle more than five min­utes to com­plete the job.

A tense fi­nale was in store but see­ing the tal­ented James Mc­Carthy run­ning onto the field with a cou­ple of min­utes re­main­ing to fi­nally end the long-run­ning tug of war warmed the cock­les and the Wi­gan Ath­letic mid­fielder showed plenty of ur­gency in his brief for­ays.

Three min­utes of in­jury-time came and went and Ire­land were cel­e­brat­ing a cru­cial, if not overly im­pres­sive, vic­tory.

Next up is the re­turn match with the Mace­do­nians in June and judg­ing by Satur­day’s ev­i­dence it will be a big ask to pick up three points in Skopje.

With the poor per­for­mance of the cen­tral mid­field part­ner­ship in the Aviva, maybe Gio­vanni Trap­pa­toni should take a leaf out of ‘In­side Right’s’ book and take a gam­ble on James Mc­Carthy.

James Mc­Carthy in ac­tion against Slav­cho Ge­orgievski (left) and Mario Gjurovski of Mace­do­nia.

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