Mad­ness and sor­row in a sea of neg­a­tiv­ity

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - SPORT -

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.

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