Madness and sorrow in a sea of negativity
WITH Ireland qualifying for the World Cup seeming about as likely as a hearty handshake between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, it looks likes the dust-covered bunting will have to remain in the dark corner of the closet.
It appears we’ll again have to press our noses against the window and jealously peer in at the party like crestfallen uninvited guests.
The Irish team didn’t actually put up too bad of a showing against Serbia, although like an overused razor blade a cutting edge is still severely lacking.
However, the real damage was done long before then.
We managed to get ourselves in the perfect position to qualify, but instead of kicking on we were completely suffocated by an over-cautious approach.
I watched last week’s showdown with the Serbs with my young fella for company.
He’s only five so he was staying up well past his bedtime, although on a positive note at least his presence in the sitting room after the watershed prevented his auld lad from shouting x-rated expletives in the general direction of the television out of sheer frustration.
He’s generally a happy-golucky chap, but at the end of the game he wore more disappointment on his face than I’ve ever seen before.
I asked him how he was feeling and he blurted out “I’m mad”.
That was it in a nutshell. Every Irish fan has the right to feel anger at how the qualifying campaign has capitulated and fallen apart like a rusty, decrepit bicycle.
There’s no need to be paying Dunphy et al a king’s ransom from the television licence fee when a five-year-old can sum it up so succinctly. “We’re mad, goodnight”.
Ireland may not be world beaters, and it’s blatantly obviously that we’re not blessed with a host of top class players, but they are professionals and when they are allowed to they’re capable of stringing a handful of passes together.
Wes Hoolahan certainly isn’t the messiah some of the pundits profess him to be, having often struggled to cement a regular place in the starting eleven at Norwich.
His elevation to the heights on an Irish Messi are somewhat far-fetched, but we’re not exactly blessed with creative talent, so he should have been included in the starting line-up against Georgia a few days earlier.
It may not have made enough difference to turn a dire 1-1 draw in Tbilisi into a win, but God, and the Irish, love a tryer, so Martin O’Neill would have garnered far greater respect from the public had he just gone for it.
Some sports fan in this country tend to get carried away in a wave of unfounded positivity, but, in the main, followers of the Irish football team are a realistic bunch.
Having only reached a handful of tournaments, we tend to begin each qualifying campaign in hope rather than expectation, and this time was no different, as most realists would have expected at least two of Serbia, Wales and Austria to finish ahead of us in the pecking order.
However, it’s the manner of the performances that have been disappointing. Of course you could argue that’s it’s the cautious approach that got us into a challenging position in the first place, but that would be too simplistic.
In reality, we found ourselves in a strong position ahead of two home matches against Wales and Austria in March and June respectively, and both games were there for the winning.
The opportunity to clinch a priceless three points against our Celtic cousins was clearly attainable after Wales were reduced to ten men, following Neil Taylor’s horror tackle that ended captain Seamus Coleman’s qualifying campaign, but we failed to punish them by really going for the jugular.
Similarly, the Boys in Green should have mopped up all three points against a limited Austrian outfit in the Aviva, but struggled to a 1-1 draw, with Jonathan Walters’ late equaliser rescuing a point.
Of course, it’s easy to look back in hindsight at where things went wrong in any qualifying campaign, but clearly those two successive home draws are when the cracks started to open like the crumbling plaster on a weather-beaten cottage on the Atlantic coast.
We should have gone for it back then, just like we should have gone for broke against Georgia. The showing against Serbia may have been sugar-coated with more positives, but the damage had already been done.
And like the young fella, I’m mad.
Not because of our almost certain failure to qualify for the World Cup in Russia, but the manner in which we feebly allowed our destiny to be snatched from our hands in a swirling sea of negativity.
David Meyler of the Republic of Ireland battles for possession with Filip Kostic of Serbia during last week’s World Cup Qualifier in the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Mick Harpur.