THERE’S LIFE IN THE OLD DOG YET
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.