Wicklow People (West Edition) - - SPORT -

AS IRE­LAND were play­ing out a bat­tling draw with Switzer­land in their Euro 2020 qual­i­fier, I was cel­e­brat­ing turn­ing a year older and be­com­ing as long in the tooth as a wily old wal­rus.

Well, I say cel­e­brat­ing, but my days of pop­ping open the cham­pagne cork are long gone, as each year brings ex­tra creak­ing bones and fur­ther aches and pains to add to the length­en­ing list of ail­ments.

I won’t give away my age, but I’ll put it this way, I’m a good bit older than Ire­land mid­fielder Glenn Whe­lan, al­though I did won­der if the Hearts man can still get a game, would there be a chance of earn­ing a run out my­self, de­spite my ad­vanc­ing years?

The good wife kindly pur­chased a few beers for me for the oc­ca­sion, so I could wet my whis­tle while soak­ing in the ac­tion from the Aviva Sta­dium, and I sat back and prised open a bot­tle of Jour­ney­man pale ale, which was pretty fit­ting when look­ing at some of the rab­ble that were lin­ing out for Ire­land.

How­ever, de­spite hav­ing one of the weak­est Ir­ish squads in liv­ing mem­ory, the main strength of the cur­rent crop is that, de­spite lim­ited abil­ity, the team is stronger than the sum of it parts.

I felt ev­ery year of my age on Thurs­day evening, as any time com­men­ta­tor Ge­orge Hamil­ton men­tioned Fabian Schär’s sur­name the vet­eran songstress Cher sprang to my mind.

When The Shoop Shoop Song is rac­ing through your head you know you’re out of touch with mod­ern liv­ing.

Well, to para­phrase the pop icon, Ire­land cer­tainly must have wished they could turn back time as they weren’t ‘Strong Enough’ when the Newcastle United man fin­ished off a flow­ing move to fire the Swiss in front.

The de­fender had the num­ber 22 em­bla­zoned on the back of his jer­sey, but un­for­tu­nately the Ir­ish play­ers couldn’t catch 22 be­fore he clin­i­cally dis­patched the ball past Dar­ren Ran­dolph.

How­ever, it stirred a re­ac­tion in the Ir­ish camp, whose at­ti­tude has to be ad­mired, and to con­tinue the Cher theme, they proved they ‘Be­lieve’ in them­selves af­ter con­ced­ing, as they played like demons to res­cue some­thing from the game.

When Mick McCarthy took the Repub­lic of Ire­land job the first time around 23 years ago, Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oa­sis was top of the UK charts, and thank­fully he could re­flect on Thurs­day’s game with­out any ire as his play­ers showed a will­ing­ness to fight un­til the end de­spite be­ing out­played for long pe­ri­ods.

The visi­tors man­aged to bore more holes in the Ir­ish de­fence than you’d find in a slice of Swiss cheese, but mer­ci­fully their at­tack­ers were more like Swiss rolls as they strug­gled to stay on their feet and sprayed in shots that were high enough to reach the snow­capped peaks of the Swiss Alps.

Late bloomer David McGoldrick rose even higher as he leaped ma­jes­ti­cally to head James McClean’s de­flected cross to the net for his first in­ter­na­tional goal.

McClean was as frus­trat­ing as ever, with the Derry man even­tu­ally prov­ing his worth by per­form­ing bril­liantly for the fi­nal ten min­utes af­ter be­ing as blunt as a rolling pin up to that point.

As they did in their away game against Den­mark, Ire­land some­how found an ex­tra gear to grab the equaliser, again in the 85th minute, and that was the one real pos­i­tive to take from a con­test where Ire­land showed con­sid­er­able heart to make up for the ob­vi­ous lack of tal­ent and cre­ativ­ity.

Sec­onds be­fore McGoldrick’s price­less lev­eller, Glenn Whe­lan shook the cross­bar with a lon­grange rocket, prov­ing that, like my­self, there’s life in the old dog yet.

That said, nei­ther of us will be able to keep mo­tor­ing for as long as Cher.

Ge­or­gia then handed me a be­lated, but wel­come, birth­day gift on Sun­day with their sur­prise score­less stale­mate against Den­mark, which puts us in as good a po­si­tion as we could have hoped for en­ter­ing into the busi­ness end of the group.

If Den­mark fail to win against Switzer­land next month, coupled with Ire­land beat­ing Ge­or­gia away on the same night, then a draw in our fi­nal game against Den­mark would be enough to see us through, re­gard­less of what hap­pens in our penul­ti­mate match against the Swiss.

That’s a big if of course, but for now Ire­land’s qual­i­fi­ca­tion hopes for Euro 2020 re­main very much alive and it could come down to a do-or-die match against Den­mark in the Aviva in Novem­ber.

Fingers crossed that our qual­i­fi­ca­tion hopes won’t go down in flames, just like Jesse James.

David McGoldrick cel­e­brates af­ter scor­ing the equaliser against Switzer­land.

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