Tag Archives: irish fans

Brady rekindles Irish love affair with its football team.

23 Jun

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What a night to be Irish. What a night to be a football fan. What a night to be an Irish football fan in the Stade Pierre in Lille last night. What a night to be Robbie Brady who joined Irish winning goal scoring hero Ray Houghton in the annals of Irish footballing folklore by glancing home Norwich team mate Wes Hoolahan’s sumptuous pass to send Ireland and their outstanding supporters on to a Last 16 showdown with hosts France in Lyon on Sunday.

Houghton’s winning goals against England and Italy in 1988 and 1994 were opening group games so Brady’s winner carried extra significance as Ireland simply had to win to prolong the Irish party in France.

Ireland’s dreadfully disappointing defeat to Belgium four days previously in Bordeaux resulted in Martin O’Neill making four changes to that starting eleven. Increased youth, vigour and strength saw Shane Duffy and Richard Keogh oust John O’Shea and a battered Ciaran Clark in defence while Glen Whelan and Hoolahan made way for Daryl Murphy and James McClean. The centre half clear out was a calculated gamble by O’Neill and Seamus Coleman was handed the armband.

Antonio Conte also rang the Italian changes but for altogether different reasons as key players from their opening two wins were rested with the Italians already group winners.

New skipper Coleman displayed instant intent with a crunching calling card on a yelping Italian and Jeff Hendrick followed suit moments later. Ireland were here to win and though both were lucky to escape a card from Romanian rookie ref Ovidiu Hategan, the two challenges set the tone and Ireland drove forward.

Hendrick went agonisingly close with an early piledriver that shaved Sirigu’s post and James McCarthy, McClean, Shane Long and Murphy were aggressive, tenacious and terrier like in unsettling the Italians.

Long and Sirigu squared up for a mutual yellow card as Ireland’s pressure was clearly rattling Italy and Sirigu pulled out a fine save from Murphy’s header from Brady’s corner but Ireland were well on top in the opening exchanges.

Defensively Ireland were comfortable although Duffy was nervy in possession early on but Coleman was relishing his captaincy as he cajoled and roared approval at a McCarthy challenge.

Ireland’s fans sensed blood as well and though Immobile went close enough with a snapshot it was their only shot as the half drew to a close. Before it did close however, Ireland fans were seething at referee Hategan.

An earlier Ogbonna foul on Murphy inside the box should’ve been punished by the ref, but when Brady fed McClean in a promising position, he was clearly fouled and bundled over by Bernardeschi but amazingly Mr Hategan let it pass. Robbery, daylight robbery from the Romanian.

Italy emerged for the second half with added appetite after a likely dressing down from
Conte and Zaza had a volley just too high to remind Ireland of his danger, but Keogh and rookie Duffy grew in stature as the game wore on and Ireland fans willed their warriors on relentlessly.

Murphy tested Sirigu and from the follow up Coleman might’ve done better but this pressure remained incessant as Italy were flustered and passing the ball terribly due to Irish pressure and harrying.

Ireland still needed that priceless goal and O’Neill sacrificed a much improved McCarthy for McGeady and a spent Murphy made way for the mercurial Hoolahan.

Italian sub Insigne almost gave Italy a most undeserved lead when he set off on a solo run and his excellent shot beat Randolph all ends up, but rebounded off the post to safety.

As Robbie Keane was readied after 81 minutes, Ireland looked like their moment had arrived. A defensive lapse allowed Hoolahan in on a one on one, but agonisingly his shot lacked conviction and Sirigu saved easily.

That moment looked to have passed but a moment later and with Keane still chomping to get on, Brady took possession in his own half. He advanced and fed McGeady to his right. Brady ran on. And ran on. And nobody tracked the lung-busting late run.

McGeady fed Hoolahan with a key pass and if anyone was in
doubt about Hoolahan’s state of mind, they needn’t have had
any. Hoolahan’s cultured left peg and wonderful football vision pierced Bonucci’s retreat and such was the pace on the pass, the still running Brady only had to make sure he made contact with the ball. He did. Sirigu had no chance and the Irish fans behind the goal sent up a Celtic cacaphoney of celebration as a spent and already emotional Brady slid to acclaim a memorable and bloody good goal.

He had started the move, showed desire and intelligence to keep going and Hoolahan’s magnificent delivery was final redemption for all those lonely years being ignored by Trapattoni. What a moment. Lille was in utter pandemonium.

Keane put his kit back on as Stephen Quinn came on instead to keep the Irish door shut for the final five minutes and stoppage time. Italy were done however, reduced to a cynical and beaten team by a Herculean Irish performance and the Boys in Green saw the time out without incident.

The final whistle was predictably wild in Irish celebration of a famous but ultimately meaningful win. Given little chance following the loss in Bordeaux, O’Neill deserves huge credit in having the balls to make key and brave changes to the starting XI.

The players deserve massive praise for a performance of guts, discipline, skill and belief and it was these traits and more besides that kept the huge Irish support’s similar belief. The fans deserve the extra game (and who knows maybe more) in France.

Make no mistake, Ireland have a chance next Sunday in Lyon. They have momentum, belief, purpose and unity. France will write them off at their peril. The ghost of Henry 2009 still stalks Irish fans and this team will do its utmost to banish it. Forever.

This is a turning point in the O’Neill reign. Things weren’t right in Bordeaux and he moved to put them right. He did. This is also a turning point in the Irish public and their relationship with its football team.

They are in love again. It has been too long.

 

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Euro 2016: Clough Disciples can take us past Group Stage

7 Jun

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So as the Irish team prepares to leave for their magnificent looking Versailles base (Saipan it certainly isn’t) and with new contracts just hours ago having been agreed for Irish boss Martin O’Neill, assistant Roy Keane and other staff members, it should be a fairly happy Easyjet flight that leaves these shores tomorrow.

It’s been a very interesting seven days since Ireland’s final warm-up defeat to Belarus in Turner’s Cross and the squad announcement and apparent fall-out (among some sections of the Press anyhow) of Roy Keane’s perceived disaffection with some of the Irish players’ performances in that Belarus game.

In my opinion, Keane was absolutely on the money, but I would also wager there was calculated method in his comments that had the complete backing of his gaffer. The squad hadn’t been announced and a couple of spots were up for grabs on the flight, yet far too many of the eleven who started (with most if not all unlikely to feature in the starting XI against Sweden in Paris next Monday, barring injuries) against Belarus failed miserably to lay down a marker to O’Neill that they could merit a starting place if the cards fell their way.

For me, the biggest contrast in attitudes and ability on the night were Aiden McGeady and James McClean. In terms of natural ability, McGeady is streets ahead of McClean. In terms of honesty of application and attitude, McClean blows the moody and enigmatic McGeady out of the water. Aiden McGeady rescued a crucial opening qualifier victory in Georgia twenty one months ago with that world class goal (his second on the night) and looked set to finally blossom in the Irish shirt after so many infuriating performances lacking in end product and effectiveness. A move to Everton following a productive enough spell with Spartak Moscow looked set to further McGeady’s cementing of his reputation as a top class player. Sadly, it has all gone pear-shaped for McGeady as injury and loss of form saw him slip out of favour with Martinez at Everton. The fact that a well-meaning move to Premier League chasing Sheffield Wednesday utterly bombed should fill O’neill and Keane and indeed all of us, with complete fear at how low McGeady’s stock has now fallen. His first half performance against Belarus bore that out. He was ineffective, disinterested and completely bereft of any semblance of sharpness. He is lucky to be boarding that plane tomorrow.

McClean on the other hand bounced back from a pre-season slaughtering in the British (and some Irish) media over his God Save the Queen stance in a pre-season friendly for West Brom, followed by the annual November nonsense (Poppygate) by absorbing the  garbage with his usual class and steadfastness and then becoming a regular in the first team at The Hawthorns. He had a fine season (despite a couple of silly red cards) and demonstrated last Tuesday against Belarus that not only did he want to be certain of making the squad, he wanted to show O’Neill that he covets a starting spot in Paris next Monday. This he did by making some  crunching tackles from the off and covering the ground in his usual manner and getting in a quota of crosses. He was everything McGeady wasn’t. McClean however must get his timing right or he will incur referees’ wrath.

It was Keane’s post-match comments however that made the headlines and I really don’t understand the fuss that was made of them, with some speculating already that there might be unrest in the Irish camp as a result! What utter rubbish!
Has it not occurred to anyone that both O’Neill and Keane were managed by one of the greatest managers of all time in Brian Clough? Has it not occurred to those who felt Keane was out of order that these two former pupils of Clough might now be indulging in some

well-rehearsed cajoling and psychology to ensure all twenty three Irish players know what’s expected of them? Has it not occured to anyone that the players might actually agree with Keane (and O’Neill who himself was unimpressed with the Belarus showing)? And if they don’t agree with Keane and were “hurt” or “stung” by the criticism, well maybe they should pack it in and let their wives/girlfriends massage their poor bruised egos.

In my opinion, the timing of this perceived criticism of several players was absolutely spot on, be it personally from Keane, or if it was prompted by O’Neill himself, with Roy the usual “bad cop” trotted out so everybody would be listening.

We travelled to Poland in 2012 without a clue what our management team was thinking or saying due to their pigeon English. We travelled to Poland, despite several players being patently unfit, wrongly assuming all was well and smelling of roses in the camp. We travelled to Poland on a wave of utterly misplaced confidence. O’Neill and Keane are ensuring we don’t repeat that  mistake this year.

So what of our chances in the group? I am cautiously optimistic we can advance through the group. Sweden are workmanlike and honest and have Ibrahimovic. Ibrahimovic can be and has been shackled before and if Ireland can do a job in containing their big star, we can

definitely gain a point at least from the opener. Three points is not beyond us either given the O’Neill knack in getting into his players’ heads (the Clough factor) and playing above themselves when it matters.

The fitness of Jonny Walters and Robbie Brady is key to our chances in Paris. Walters was our talisman and Player of the Qualifiers. Brady has become key for set piece delivery and eye for a goal (both play-off legs v Bosnia). Deprived of one or both of them could mean the difference between no points and three next Monday. I believe both will make it as this game should determine our duration in France.

Belgium will hugely miss the absence of Kompany, when he is fully fit (if he ever will be again), he is one of the best defenders in world football. Despite the rich talent at Marc Wilmots’ disposal, Kompany’s absence will make a difference to the fate of Belgium. On their day however and depending on how we’ve fared in Paris, this is probably our toughest game of the three and I would take a point now from Bordeaux.

Italy are Italy, despite the retirement of Pirlo and the absence of a centre forward of note to score the goals they need. Despite Italy’s tradition and history, I firmly believe Ireland can win this one and an avoidance of defeat in the other two games should be enough for us to make the last 16.

Make no mistake however, this is still a bloody tough group for Ireland and history has taught us that anything is possible on any given day, be it positive or negative, so my belief we can progress beyond the group stage is peppered with caution.

If everyone is fit (and I mean 100% fit, not Euro 2012 fit), I think the starting XI will be as follows: (4-5-1) – Randolph, Coleman, O’Shea, Keogh, Brady; Walters, Whelan, McCarthy, Hendrick, McClean; Long.

We’re all set, let the games begin and let us hope we see us make it beyond the group stage for this time in a European Championship! GWAN IRELAND!

 

Italia ’90, My Memories of Three Crazy Weeks!

11 Jun

Italia ‘90.  My memories, Twenty Five Years On.

Italia 90 a

Tickets in hand, a mere 23 years young………

Part One:  Cagliari, Matchday 1

11th June, 1990, Saint Elia Stadium, Cagliari, Sardinia. Ireland v England.

I’m soaking wet with seven of my nine companions on that trip (two decided they didn’t want to risk going to the England game) in the Saint Elia Stadium in Cagliari.  An electrical storm that arrived at half time in our first World Cup match had drowned every one of us.  We were cold, wet and fairly miserable as England led 1-0 from a scruffy, horrible, preventable Gary Lineker goal (he’d been waiting for that for two years after being denied several times in our Euro 88 win over them).

The English fans were dancing within eye and earshot, “let’s all ‘ave a disco, let’s all ‘ave a disco, na na na na, na na na na”.  Hard to take.  We bit our lips, we wrung out our shirts and shorts and hoped we’d salvage something.  The storm (off the pitch) abated, there was no real storm on the pitch as the players’ familiarity with each other and the breezy conditions turned the match into a slog and a battle of attrition, a bore quite frankly.  We kept the vocal support going as best we could, but the noise disappeared into the Cagliari air as the stadium was completely open, apart from a small roof over the Press Box.  One wouldn’t be expecting the hacks to start singing or repeating the Mexican Wave that arrived on our screens in the previous World Cup in Mexico.

72 minutes gone and our singing was becoming as desperate as the match.  Packy Bonner roared “OUT” at his back four (Morris, McCarthy, Moran and Staunton) as he summoned up all his strength for another booming punt down the middle of the park.  Route 1 in all its glory.  Cascarino and Terry Butcher went for the high ball and neither won it.   The ball dropped to Kevin Sheedy but his attempt at a pass was completely mis-hit and we groaned in frustration again at another unforced error.   England’s sub Steve McMahon of Liverpool took possession, but his touch was heavy (another English disease to go with their hooligans).  He frantically tried to atone for his poor touch by stretching to pass to his full back Gary Stevens.  Too late.  Sheedy pounced to repair his earlier poor play and blocked the pass and as the ball broke out of Sheedy’s tackle, this was the moment.  Sheedy’s trusty, lethal left peg did the rest from the edge of the box.  Shilton saw it all the way but his dive was never going to stop Sheedy’s shot.  I was over a hundred metres away down the far end, but the second the ball left Sheedy’s boot I knew it was in.  Shilton could probably almost taste the fizz of the ball and the rain as it scorched past him.  GOOOOOOALLLLLLL!!!

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Sheedy rifles past Shilton for that historic first World Cup Goal (look at McLoughlin offside!!)

Cue the Paddy celebrations.  Joy, relief, disbelief, ecstasy, defiance and many more emotions hit me in that split second after we realised the referee and linesman were running back to halfway (Alan McLoughlin was in an offside position when offside meant offside, payback for the Van Basten offside of Euro 88).  The English disco lights were suddenly turned off as a Cagliari Ceili erupted.  My glasses went flying as my companions and other delirious Irish fans embraced me.  I’d only been wearing glasses for four months, “ah f*ck this” as my celebrations stopped abruptly and I clambered down the rows of seats hoping a) I’d find me glasses and b) they weren’t broken.   Miraculously both my hopes were somehow realised and I slipped them back on and rejoined the lads for the hollering and roaring.  Fergus Bishop began taunting the Disco shower, “sing when you’re wa*king, yiz only sing when you’re wa*king”……….within two choruses our whole end had joined in as we taunted the English as only we can.  Nothing beats scoring against England.   Sheedy’s goal was the last major moment of the opening match, we didn’t care.  “You’ll Never Beat the Irish” bellowed out (in our 8 qualifying games for Italia-90, we had kept seven clean sheets in eight matches).  We’d avoided defeat  (or as we said since then, we won 1 all) to the Auld Enemy, we’d scored in our first ever World Cup game and best of all, we were there.

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Celebrating our World Cup 1-1 victory v England: Back: Dave Dunne, Mick Dunne (hidden by

Alan Keane’s arm), Alan Keane, Rodney Bishop. Front: Charlie Dunne, Phelim Warren, Fergus Bishop.

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Been there, done that, worn the t-shirt!

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Part 2: Terrasini:

The ten of us who travelled on our first ever World Cup Odyssey were meself, Alan and Derek Keane, Fergus and Rodney Bishop, Dave Dunne (Alan’s brother in law), Charlie and Mick Dunne (Dave’s uncles), Brian Evers and Paul Meade.  We booked our own flights and accommodation and based ourselves for two weeks in a massive Complex called Citta del Mare in a town called Terrasini, just outside Palermo.  We would play two matches in Palermo and the English game was as mentioned above, played in Cagliari on the island of Sardinia.  There was no accommodation to be found in Cagliari when we were booking so after that game we decided we’d just “sleep” in the airport that night and catch a mid-morning flight back to Palermo the day after.

The Italian Police were taking absolutely no chances once England were in town as English football fans’ reputation was still in the gutter from years of hooliganism.  There was a matchday alcohol ban in force in Cagliari and we couldn’t get a beer that night after the 1-1 draw either.  The decent result thanks to Sheedy’s goal made the night in the airport a bit easier to bear, but being the resourceful lot we were, we took a very early taxi into Cagliari city centre early next morning where we were served very welcome breakfast beers to celebrate the draw the night before and met some English fans from Birmingham who were as frustrated as we were delighted.  We floated back onto the flight to Palermo that afternoon.

Terrasini itself was straight out of The Godfather movies.  Its quaint old square, adorned with small but welcoming bars kept the football fans well stocked with local and international beers.  We’d spend our afternoons curing hangovers and basking in the Palermo sun while the local bar owners gladly counted their zillions of lire as each hour passed and another round of beers disappeared.

Most nights were then spent back at Citta Del Mare’s excellent night club where the Irish World Cup Song “Put Em Under Pressure” (a copy of which had been wisely brought out)  quickly became very well known to the other guests fortunate enough (or maybe unfortunate) to be in the middle of a two week Irish piss up.   When the disco music finished, a sing-song would usually ensue, which we sometimes moved down to the Amphitheatre on the complex which had a massive screen where we could enjoy the other matches in the tournament.  Non-Irish guests would rightly complain about these late night Irish sing-songs (I had brought the squeezebox), so we’d move down to the Amphitheatre (Amputation Theatre as Alan called it) and try to keep the noise down somewhat.  We tried, but failed………… I’m blaming ex-Shamrock Rovers stalwart Robbie Gaffney for that.

Beers weren’t bought at Citta Del Mare accommodation in usual cash custom.  One had to purchase bags of plastic beads at Reception and when you wanted a beer, you handed over your 4 beads to the barman.  So beads were, in effect, beer money so you looked after your beads carefully.  Again, Irish drinkers being resourceful and thrifty, the local off licences were raided and take-out beers bought by the caseload.

As well as beads, we had bidets.  The hotel rooms didn’t have a fridge, so our take-out beers were kept as cold as we could keep them by filling up the bidet with cold water and putting the beers in the bidet.  Wasn’t particularly ideal but what else could we do?

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Ex Rovers star Robbie Gaffney with me in Citta Del Mare, Terrasini, June 1990

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Part 3, Matchday 2

17th June, 1990.  La Favorita Stadium, Palermo, Sicily.  Ireland v Egypt.

It’s a humid, sticky day but we’re not complaining given the drenching we got in Cagliari at the England game.  There’s an absolute party atmosphere around the Stadium and it’s clear there’s huge support for the Irish team, clearly swelled by one-day trippers following the good result against England six days previously.  Egyptian support is passionate but small enough and despite Egypt holding the European Champions Holland to a draw in their first match, we Irish are expecting a win which would put us in with a great chance of making the last 16.  Charlton names an unchanged starting XI from the England game, no big surprise there.

Bonner; Morris, McCarthy, Moran, Staunton; Houghton, McGrath, Townsend, Sheedy; Cascarino and Aldridge.

The memory itself is of a dreadful game.  Egypt came to defend and did it well.  Ireland had neither the wit nor strategy to break them down.  For all Charlton’s virtues, Plan B rarely existed and Ireland’s sledgehammer failed abysmally to crack Egypt’s nut.  My most vivid memory of a terrible 90 minutes is Staunton’s 25 yarder scraping the paint off the post near the end and knowing we were never gonna score on the day.  We shuffled out of La Favorita that day frustrated and chastened.  Our bubble had been burst by an admittedly negative Egypt, but Charlton (and the players) deserved the criticism for a really poor performance.  In those pre-youtube and social media days, we didn’t see Eamon Dunphy’s famous meltdown and pen throwing incident on the RTE Panel after the game until we turned on our VCRs when we got home. Probably just as well.

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A look of anti-climax on faces after the 0-0 draw with Egypt in Palermo.  Back row: Derek

Keane, Dave Dunne, Fergus Bishop.  Front: Rodney Bishop, Phelim Warren, Alan Keane,

Mick Dunne, Charlie Dunne.

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Part 4, Matchday 3

21st June 1990, La Favorita Stadium, Palermo. Sicily.   Ireland v Holland.

The frustration of that Sunday afternoon against Egypt soon gave way to anticipation and nerves as the Dutch were last to play in our group.  All four group games had been drawn so any of the four teams could still advance, but even so, we still expected England to beat Egypt and hoped that a draw might be enough, if we managed to get a draw.  Let’s not forget this was a Dutch team who were European Champions, boasting  phenomenal players still around from 1988 such as Ronald Koeman, Jan Wouters, Gerald Vanenburg, Frank Rijkaard, Marco Van Basten and the mercurial and majestic Ruud Gullit.

Make no mistake however, ours was still a formidable Irish team also and we lined up with one change from the opening two games, as Tony Cascarino was punished for two poor displays by losing out to a chomping at the bit Niall Quinn.  Ireland lined up with Bonner, Morris, McCarthy, Moran, Staunton; Houghton, McGrath, Townsend, Sheedy, Quinn and Aldridge.

It was a humid but bearable night for football and the evening kick off under lights really gave the night a top footballing occasion feeling.  Like the Irish, the Dutch fans travelled in huge numbers so there was an almost capacity crowd in La Favorita Stadium.   Added to that, with the stands being so close to the pitch, there was a real old-fashioned and proper footballing atmosphere as the teams emerged from the tunnel.  There were Irish flags everywhere and the vocal support from the beginning was incredible.   After the initial cagey match against England and the borefest of the Egypt game, this promised to be a really big World Cup clash and one we had come all this way to see and enjoy.

Ten minutes in, we knew we had finally arrived at World Cup level.  Koeman fed Gullit in a dangerous inside right position and Gullit cut through our back four with a lovely one-two with our Euro 88 nemesis Wim Kieft.  Despite tracking Gullit gamely, Paul McGrath couldn’t block Gullit’s shot and it seared across Packy Bonner low inside the far post.  The Oranje rose and roared in unison, it sent a shiver down the Irish spine and drew a collective Irish head in the hands moment.  It was a superb goal and difficult to prevent such was its precision, incision and execution.  1-0 Holland.

To be fair to Charlton’s team, the goal didn’t bury them and as the half wore on, Ireland mixed up some usual direct football with some progressive stuff on the deck and we were by no means a beaten docket at half time.

The vocal support kept increasing as the second half wore on as we willed the Irish forward.  In the 72nd minute, the Dutch door finally gave way.  Bonner, as in the England game, launched a huge clearance down the centre.  With substitute Cascarino (pointlessly) chasing Dutch full back Berry Van Aerle, the Dutchman volleyed the ball back in the direction of his keeper, Hans Van Breukelen.  Back in 1990, a keeper could handle the ball from a backpass  but with Van Aerle’s pass having too much pace on it, Van Breukelen dived anxiously to his left to prevent an own goal or a corner and as he landed, the ball squirmed free.   Big Quinner was following up as good forwards should and he slid that big long leg out with sufficient pace to direct the ball off Van Breukelen and high into the Dutch net.  I was high enough in the stand in line with the Dutch goal so I’d a great view of it and all hell broke loose (or Heaven to be more accurate)  as the net rippled and Quinner got up to celebrate.  A massive Irish roar covered the air of La Favorita Stadium as we embraced all round us in utter elation.   Alan Keane beside us was in tears, that’s how much it meant.  Keaner, the usual pessimist (apart from the England game at Euro 88 when he piped up after an hour that England would “never score” and was proved right), not one to display huge outpourings of emotion was sitting there blubbing his head off, that’s indeed how much Quinner’s goal meant.

Ireland went for jugular with the Irish fans now at fever pitch and Cascarino drove a shot viciously across the Dutch goalmouth minutes later.  Then a calm seemed to descend on proceedings as it became apparent that a draw would probably be enough for both sides to advance.  The last 10 minutes became a non-event, but we were oblivious enough to it as we were too busy singing and basking in Quinner’s goal.  The game finished 1-1 and the party could now start as England had beaten Egypt 1-0 to advance to the last sixteen with us and Holland.

“Que Sera Sera, whatever will be will be, we’re staying in Italy, que sera sera”………

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Our party of 10 after the 1-1 draw with the Dutch.  L-R at back, Derek Keane, Dave Dunne, Alan Keane, Paul Meade, Brian Evers, Charlie Dunne and Fergus Bishop. Front row: Mick Dunne, Phelim Warren, Rodney Bishop.

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Part 5: Terrasini post-match.

So we all piled into Terrasini, Irish and Dutch fans together as the Terrasini bars primed themselves for another onslaught of thirsty fans, but this one would be mental.  A stage was set up by a local DJ and as I had my accordion with me (having gone back to the Hotel to get it), we politely asked the DJ could I get onto the stage and play a few songs and thankfully he agreed.  So I took the microphone and launched into “Spancil Hill” and the few hundred fans very quickly rose to a few thousand and Irish necks craned to see who was singing Irish folk songs in a Sicilian Square.  After two songs, I got a tap on the shoulder to let another singer on.  It was none other than The Wolfe Tones’ Brian Warfield!  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Brian took the mic and within seconds “We’re on the One Road” and “A Nation Once Again” was echoing around Terrasini, this was just amazing.  Ireland had qualified for the last 16 of the World Cup in its first appearance, we’d gone toe to toe with the European Champions and now I was playing music with a folk legend in front of a few thousand happy Irish football fans.  Paul Kimmage’s simply brilliant piece from the Sunday Tribune of 24th June captures that night perfectly…………..here it is in its entirety, enjoy…………..

“ONLY A GAME IN SICILY”  by Paul Kimmage

“Egypt…………….And Then The Promised Land”. The headline on the front pages of last weeks Tribune summed up our feelings as we walked to the stadium. It would have been hard to write a respectable one for how we felt on the way out.  We hadn’t won.  We hadn’t been beaten either but that consolation didn’t seem to count for much.

We were disappointed, let down, empty.  “Moses” Charlton had led us to the Red Sea and the waters had stayed closed.

The days before.  The hour during.  The minutes after.

Holland……….and then the promised land.

The days before were about calculation, studying the mathematics of qualification.  From noon until night we calculated.  “We need West Germany to stuff Columbia, for Brazil to beat Scotland, for South Korea to beat Uruguay, for England to beat Egypt – or better still for Egypt to beat England and a draw or a win against Holland”  Simple.

And argument.

All day and every day we argued.  In the morning over coffee and rolls, in the afternoon over “gelato” and “cappuchino”, in the evening over spaghetti and beer.  “Yes I see your point Seamus but I still think we should go looking for a draw”.  

“Rubbish, did ye see Italy against the Czechs?  We’re not in the same league.  I say we throw caution to the wind and go for the win”.

“Why isn’t he giving Whelan a game?  He was bombing in training yesterday”.

“If only Brady had played against the Egyptians”.

And Eamon Dunphy.

It seemed half the bloody island was talking about Eamon Dunphy.  Rumour said he was ashamed to be Irish.  That he had thrown a pen! On televison!  Live! RTE must have loved it. Did they replay it in slow motion?  Rumour had it he was on the island, had made an appearance at a press conference and that Jack had walked out.

They got some mileage out of it in the cafes.  “He’s an awful bollox, writes some good articles and I always read him but still an awful bollox. He’s knockin’ us before we’re beaten but we’re still in with a chance”.  They sang about him at night in the bars.  “Eamon Dunphy writes a load of shite, doo dah, doo dah”

Or:

“If ye hate Eamon Dunphy clap your hands………clap your hands, if ye hate Eamon Dunphy clap your hands……..clap your hands”.

There were people who respected his courage, agreed with some of his criticisms but their voices were drowned in the masses.  Nearly everyone clapped.  It was sad.

Met a few guys the day before the match.  You meet guys all the time over here.  You exchange pleasantries over beer or coffee, talking about “home” and work and the match and the team they would pick.  You swap names and addresses on receipts and beer mats and then walk away.  And forget.

Met two guys on Wednesday – forget their names but they were opposites.  Joe, a middle-aged Irishman had travelled alone from his home in England to support his country.  He had no problem getting tickets for the first two matches but couldn’t find anyone with a spare for the Dutch match.  The day before the game he went to the Press Centre outside the stadium where officials of the FAI were distributing the access cards.  Six hundred supporters turned up looking for tickets.  The FAI had 90, they drew lots.  Joe’s name stayed in the hat.  

The second guy, Nigel, was much luckier.  Dashing, early 20s, good job, few bob – a “Master of the Universe”.  He won the trip to the Dutch game in a competition. (Q: Describe in ten words why you like Loo Lah cassette tapes?  A: I like Loo Lah tapes because…………..)

Clever guy Nigel, he sent all the right words to Loo Lah and won a trip to Sicily.  It was his first time at an international match – he didn’t really like the game and would have sold the ticket but, well, this was the World Cup.  “I was there” would go down well in The Berkely Court.  Saw him on the bus on the way to the match.  Blue short sleeved shirt, beige slacks, shades – he looked a bit out of place in the sea of green.  A fan.  A designer fan.

Eamon Dunphy has written a lot about designer fans.  He’s dead right.  MEMO TO THE FAI: Sirs: If in four years time we qualify again for the World Cup, please control the distribution of match tickets more thoroughly to ensure the real fan is not at the mercy of the unscrupulous travel agent and the company marketing men when looking for tickets.  Grazie.

We got to the ground two hours before kick off.  Orange, green, police, sirens, drums banging, the smell of horse shit and butterflies.  Colourful, delicate, elegant butterflies – such pleasant little insects.  Except when they get in your stomach.

It’s terrible when they get in your stomach.  Maybe it was the extra decibels, the added colour, the feeling there was so much at stake.  

Whatever it was, the little hoors were fluttering around the bellies of every Irishman in the stadium.  We were nervous.

It’s nice to get in early, gives one the chance to observe, to manwatch.  Manwatching is one way of swotting butterflies.  I noticed this guy sitting two rows below.  Big man, 30 to 35, bit thin on top (bald), cut lip.  It was his aggressiveness that drew my attention.  The look in his eye, the provocative pointing of his finger, his chanting “Get into them, clap clap clap clap, get into them clap clap clap clap”.;  

I had seen shaven heads with tattoos and union jacks at this sort of carry on a week earlier in Cagliari.  But this fellow was Irish.  A bowsey.  An Irish bowsey.  There was a contingent of Dutch fans sitting close by.  They were larger than life, colourful, out to enjoy themselves.  One had a huge drum.  Every time he beat the drum, the cut lip would stand up and let out a string of abuse, pointing his finger.  “Baahhhhhh ye Dutch bastards” (he used a stronger adjective).

The teams came out on the pitch and we had the singing of the National Anthems.  One of the great memories has been the respect our fans have shown towards the anthems of those we have played against.  

Ours was first.  The lip sang it like he had personally hoisted the flag on the roof of the GPO in 1916.  A patriot.  The Dutch anthem.  Would he start whistling?  Some of our fans were noisy.

“Shuuuuuuuuuuuusssssssshhhhhhhhhhh” we tried to quieten them.  The lip seemed confused at the respect.  

I watched his lips – “Shuuuuuuuusssssssssshhhh”.  Incredible.  He had joined the requests for silence.  Was this an Irish bowsey, a mouth with too much drink or a confused idiot?  Manwatching can be fascinating.

Noise was at its highest after the anthems.  Eamon Dunphy came in for more abuse.  “Saw Dunphy on his way to the ground.  The bastard wasn’t wearing any green”  The singing followed: “If you hate Eamon………..”  The intensity of the chorus, the depth of resentment against the journalist was amazing.  He must have heard it from his seat in the Press Box.  What did it sound like from up there?

Half time, one down.  Fifteen minutes to manwatch. Four guys this time.  Not much going on in their faces – sad eyes.dropped mouths, emptiness, dejection.  One of the frightening things about football is its effects on people. It is most disturbing to see grown men cursing their heads off, veins popping out the side of their necks, eyes bulging out of their heads just because Morris makes a dud clearance or Aldridge misses an open goal or Ruudy puts one past Packy.  The manwatching is disturbed by a message on the Public Address system.  Dominic McFadden is asked to contact his parents in Donegal for an urgent message……….bad news waiting patiently at the end of a phone line.  No one takes much notice – too caught up in the sorrow of imminent departure from Italy.  Poor Dominic.

You lose all sense of true values out here.  In the four days between the games with Egypt and Holland, children would have starved to death in Africa, some poor down and out would have choked on his own vomit in a Parisian Metro station,  tragic accidents would have caused immeasurable grief to families all around the globe.  But we were oblivious to it all.  All that mattered was the game against Holland. And now we were losing it – the end of the world.

To hell with it, when all’s said and done it’s only a game.  Wasn’t it Eamon Dunphy who wrote that? Why then did he throw his pen?  Why were we silent and sad when Gullit rattled the back of our net?  Funny old game.

The second half was so much better.

“Ooooooooooh, hard luck Aldo!!”.  “Go on Rayo, go on Rayo…………ah Jaysus Rayo”. And then, just when we thought it was unsafe to go in the water.  “Quinner” stuck his toe out and opened the sea.  The Red Sea.  The gateway to the Promised Land.  Halleluiah.

What a stretch!  Thank God he didn’t cut his toenails before the game.

The final whistle. “Yeeeeeeeeeeesssssssssssss!”

It’s funny how knackered you feel after watching a football match.  We walked back to the buses in the car park , no singing or dancing or cheering.  We sat in our seats, numb – drained physically from the butterflies and tension, the clapping and shouting.  But by the time we reached Terrasini, a small village 25 miles out of Palermo, we had recovered.  Everyone converged on Terrasini and its small square dominated by the church, the ice cream bars and cafes.  Earlier in the week, McCarthy and Whelan and Houghton had signed autographs and sipped beers here.  Jackie Charlton had sung songs here.  This was the place to be – perhaps they might come again.

The poor square couldn’t cope, coach load after coach load of deliriously happy, hungry and above all thirsty Irishmen.  All pizzas, sandwiches and rolls disappeared within seconds.  But there was no shortage of beer so the party was saved.  How much was Niall Quinn worth in alcohol sales?  A few days earlier, a local bar owner had said he had sold more beer in four days than he had in an entire year.

What would they sell tonight?  A thousand Irish “hooley gans” on the rampage, dancing and singing in the streets.  A small stage had been set up in the centre of the square.  First came the patriot songs.

“North Men, South Men, comrades all, Dublin, Belfast, Cork or Donegal, we’re on the one road singing a song………..”  Pat and Carmel from Douglas, Pat from Walshestown, Brid from Longford, Brian from Skerries, John from the Coombe, Kevin from Louth, three men from Ballaghaderreen, three more from Nobber.  All Irish, all proud.

“Rude Gullets” goal had almost wiped us off the face of the earth but now we were “A Nation Once Again, a Nation once Again………”  A local band took over.  They played “The Lambada”, a sexy hip-gyrating rhumba from South America and we queued up to dance with their women – stunners.  But the nicest of all was Irish.

Someone said she was Paul McGrath’s sister.  Whoever she was, she was in great demand.  “Can I have your autograph?”  Oooh Aaah.

There were a few Dutch fans present, we lauded them with praise.  “Yis played some great football in the last 10 minutes”…….”Ruudy needs a haircut, Ruudy needs a haircut, nah nah nah nah…….”

The band stopped playing at 2.30, the bars closed at 3.

Dismay, pleading.  “Can we get one more please, just one more?”  Our capacity for beer is mind-boggling.  The last departure from the square was at five in the morning.  Terrasini will never see the like of it again.

I don’t think I have seen so many unhealthy people as I did the next day, or rather later in the same day.  Bloodshot eyes, sore heads, lost voices.  One guy was halfway through his millionth rendition of “Ole Ole” when he fell nine foot from a balcony from a terrace.  He was sore but otherwise unscathed.

But there were few complaints.  The dream lives on, next stop Romania.

Jack’s army was optimistic.  “Sure we’ll lash them, they’ve no food out there”.  The good humour and crack later flew home to Dublin.

Some had gone direct to Genoa, but the majority were penniless, holiday-less and under threat of divorce unless they returned.  The loved ones were waiting in the airport terminal.  Tanned hubbies walking out to children and wives and cheers and credit card overdrafts.  Soldiers returning from war.  “I’m sorry I didn’t ring love, the Italian phones were brutal”.

An airport worker struggles to wheel a huge parcelled package through the masses.  Some quick wit shouts “Look, it’s Eamon Dunphy”.

Everybody laughed.  I laughed.  You have to.  Sure it’s only a game.

Paul Kimmage

The Sunday Tribune

24th June 1990.

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Part 6:  “You’re Very Good for coming Home”

So the qualification for the last 16 celebrations in Terrasini lasted long into Friday morning, 22nd June and sadly, a couple of flights back to Dublin beckoned (although I was stopping off in London for that weekend to meet some Irish pals who were working there) and with hangovers the size of Mount Etna, we bade Arrivederci to Terrasini.  I think back now and still kick myself at what I was doing leaving Italy with a last 16 match in Genoa against Romania to come on the Monday, despite being due back in work that day.

Lo and behold, I arrived back in work on the Monday, in several pieces from two weeks at a World Cup and a weekend with pals in London and my Manager in work with a look of surprise says “Ah you’re very good for coming home!”  In my 23 year old naivete as an employee, I wrongly assumed I really HAD to be back at work, my Manager’s genuine surprise at my return made my blood run cold at what I’d done in missing the Romania match.  The ten of us who were on the trip arranged to meet up anyhow at CYM club in Terenure to watch the drama unfold on the Big Screen and while it was another memorable day culminating in that 5-4 penalties victory for Ireland, it just wasn’t the same not being out there.  We still stayed partying mind you in CY till the wee hours and I really don’t know how none of us were carted off to hospital with alcohol poisoning.

**************************************************************

Part 7, “Schillaci has scored……again”  

Having been gutted to miss out on the last 16 game, the Quarter Final with Italy was down for decision on Saturday 30th June in Rome.  Brendan Moran (brother of Kevin), who was well known to me called me a couple of days before the game to tell me he had a match ticket waiting for me in Rome if I could out get out there.  Frantically (this was before the age of Internet travel) I made I don’t know how many phone calls to try get a route to Rome, but it was impossible and I had to admit defeat and tell Brendan to let another lucky fan get that match ticket.

So again, we all assembled at CYM Terenure for the Italy game.  It was always gonna be a nigh impossible task for Ireland to be allowed to beat Italy on their home patch and while we weren’t robbed by the referee in the manner of the John Giles/Eoin Hand era, it was clear the Portuguese referee was a complete homer as Ireland got zero decisions all night.  Ireland played really heroically against the host nation but the talismanic Toto Schillaci scored the only goal of the game in the first half after Bonner had parried Donadoni’s shot into his path.  It was a magnificent finish by the Sicilian and I will forever hear Jimmy Magee’s voice in my head as the ball rolled inside the far post “Schillaci has scored…….again”.   We were out, heroic, defiant, brave but out.  Ciao.

Toto Schillaci barely scored ever again.

*****************************************************************

So those are my memories of a truly unforgettable three weeks in my life and the life of this nation.  Euro-88 had given people a glimpse of what was possible for this country and for those unbelievable three weeks in Ireland in the Summer of 1990, football was THE game in the country.  People with absolutely no interest in sport, never mind football, were carried away on a wave of euphoria and national pride in a manner not seen before or since.  Everyone bought the colours, pubs were crammed, off-licences couldn’t keep up with demand for booze, mothers made Irish flags/woolly jumpers/scarves and the rest.  Children learned the football songs in school and furiously collected the stickers for their World Cup albums.   Grown men cried, credit unions cried, livers cried stop and Bill (Lord Rest Him), John and Eamon became part of the furniture.  Cars roared around streets after matches in a way we only used to see on television when other countries were successful.  For 90-120 minutes on five days/nights in June 1990, this country downed tools and watched football.  It was great.

The End.

Phelim Warren, June 2015.

Who Caused The Trouble at Lansdowne Road in 1995?

8 Jun

115114

I’ll explain that title later on.

So, the long-awaited and much hyped Ireland v England rematch at Lansdowne Road passed off peacefully (as of 24 hours after I haven’t read any reports of trouble anyhow) and a rousing ballad session in The Grand Canal Hotel afterwards saw both sets of fans enjoying the day, even if the hosts outstayed the visitors in terms of stamina!

On the pitch, a scoreless draw was probably about right as a decent enough first half went the usual way end of season friendlies go when both teams were diluted with subs in the second. England’s second half chances had almost a sense of “we better not score and upset our hosts” feel, while the Irish fans willed their charges on to score against the English, a goal that is always celebrated with more fervour and longer memory than goals against other opposition. It wasn’t to be for the Irish fans on the day. Alot wasn’t to be for Irish fans on the day and this is the main thrust of this blog today.

I wrote last November about John Delaney and the Irish fans
https://irelandfaneuro2012.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/why-im-finished-going-to-ireland-home-games/. Things appear to be getting worse.

The bullying and paranoia continued yesterday at Section 114 of the South Stand of Lansdowne Road (I’ll never call it the sponsor’s name). A few examples here from Irish fans, fans of impeccable character who have travelled to every corner of the globe spending their money following the team they love but getting sick and tired of this treatment in their own stadium.

Alan: Had a suit-clad person and two stewards stand in front of my seat during the half time break, suit told me it was his job to ensure no anti-FAI/Delaney protest banners were produced. The three stooges left during the second half.

Barry: Section 114 was primarily singled out and cordoned off by stewards to search everbody’s bags. (See photos of Section 114 and 115 above, 2o metres apart).  Other sections either side of 114 were not subject to the same or any scrutiny. The food area of 114 at half time was awash with stewards getting instructions in dealing with “the best fans in the world” who again were prevented from making a justifiable and utterly peaceful protest. The FAI are building and dismantling the stadium at the same time. The team deserves our support and we in turn deserve the chance to support the team. Lads who raised over €3000 voluntarily to get flags and banners for the South Stand are not renewing season tickets.

Pauric: Showed my ticket at the turnstile and was then requested to remove my jacket before being searched. Got into seat and no hassle in the 1st half. Then the “Delaney out” banner appeared and could see extra security come in.

I left 114 with exactly 2 minutes left in the 1st half to go to the toilet. As I left could see a large number of the security in the orange bibs standing at the entrance of 114 being given instructions by some man in an FAI blazer.

When I got back into area I was standing, I noticed the extra security was flanked either side of 114 similar to the USA game. The “Delaney out” banners appeared again and a member of the FAI and 2 members of security enter our row of seats to try remove it. These 2 members of security then proceeded to stand in our row of seats for the remainder of the game which to me was them trying to intimidate people in 114.

Brian: Had a nondescript, non-protest Ireland flag taken down during the game. Was told it wasn’t “registered”.

Since when did flags have to be registered at an Ireland game? Were England fans obliged to register their flags? I think we know the answer to that one.

So there you have it from only four fans. Bags searched for “offending” flags (that don’t contravene stadium regulations), stewards and suits moving into only one stadium area to keep track of peaceful protests from Irish fans and making them feel like troublemakers and removal of run of the mill flags for not being “registered”. This is the first I heard that flags needed to be registered. I thought the only problem with flags in this country was in the Six Counties. How naïve of me.

Then when the game was over, Section 114 exit was again surrounded by stewards flanking exiting fans as if they were descendants of the people who wrecked Lansdowne Road 20 years previously.

Hence the title of my blog. I doubt very much English fans were subject to the level of searching, scrutiny, invasion of baggage/clothes, confiscation of flags (offensive or otherwise) and utter paranoia as Irish fans in Section 114 were. One is left wondering who actually caused trouble in 1995 given the attention given to the “best fans in the world” yesterday.

John Delaney went on radio last November saying he didn’t have a problem with fans protesting. So why is he demonstrating the complete opposite yesterday and last November at the USA game at the same venue in the same Section 114?

The only “troublemakers” at yesterday’s game were the stewards, clearly acting on instructions from Abbotstown. It’s shameful, pathetic, needless and embarrassing. All the good work done in recent years with Singing Sections, colour, atmosphere, away trips and the exemplary behaviour, monies raised for charities, all this is being completely crushed by an administration and CEO who wouldn’t look out place in North Korea.

The clock is ticking on your hypocrisy, misleading of the public and bullying John.

Stand Down for The Boys In Green.

Ireland Team Report: A Good Year, not a Great One.

17 Dec

mon

So another year has slid by in the blink of an eye. A much anticipated and hugely enjoyable World Cup in Brazil ended with worthy champions in the form of Germany. That Ireland missed out was of course disappointing but the scars of Euro 2012 carried into a very disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign under Trapattoni, who paid for our missing out on Brazil with his job. Martin O’Neill took up the reins as we know in 2013. So how was 2014 for the still new Irish regime?

O’Neill had to remain very patient for the opening nine months of the year as only friendly matches were available to him until the Euro 2016 matches kicked off in September. It was very hard to gauge where O’Neill’s team was going in the friendly matches we witnessed and many of the players remained from the Trapattoni era.

One notable change in those friendlies however was O’Neill’s inclusion of Wes Hoolahan, who was so disappointingly snubbed for almost all of Trapattoni’s tenure. Wes responded very well in most of those friendly matches, with eye-catching performances and being given leeway by O’Neill to show us the ability we all knew he possessed.

Two successive Dublin defeats however (both 2-1 to Serbia and Turkey) led to some early impatience among fans, but a hugely impressive 0-0 draw against World Cup bound Italy in London would have given O’Neill real encouragement. Excellent individual performances from Anthony Pilkington, David Meyler, Geoff Hendrick and Hoolahan hinted that the new era would exorcise the dreadful World Cup campaign as O’Neill then took his charges Stateside for two games against also World Cup bound Costa Rica and Portugal.

A bad-tempered 1-1 draw with Costa Rica was followed by a 5-1 slaughtering by Portugal and given what befell both nations in the subsequent World Cup, it still remained very difficult to assess how O’Neill’s team was taking shape. Costa Rica excelled in Brazil, while Portgual bombed and with only one more friendly match at home to Oman ahead of the opening qualifier, it was proving difficult to accurately predict O’Neill’s likely starting XI for the Euro qualifiers, not that it’s easy to second guess the Derryman’s mind anyhow.

Oman were despatched 2-0 in a boring enough encounter at Lansdowne, so O’Neill’s record in the seven friendlies in 2014 read two wins, two draws and three losses, enough for some pessimism among some fans and enough for the optimists to maintain that friendlies are no real indication of what will happen in competitive games.

The real business began in September, the opening Euro 2016 qualifier as Ireland headed to Tbilisi to play Georgia, always a difficult place to go at the best of times. Georgia were coached by former Newcastle United player Temuri Ketsbaia.

As stated above, it is very difficult and probably futile to predict what Martin O’Neill’s team selection would be and so it proved in Tbilisi. Despite the excellence of Hoolahan’s friendly match displays, he didn’t start in Tbilisi and O’Neill opted for a 5 man midfield of Jon Walters and Aiden McGeady wide and a central trio of Stephen Quinn, Glen Whelan and James McCarthy. Robbie Keane was the lone striker.

Ireland won 2-1 thanks to a McGeady double, with the second goal worthy of winning any game such was the breathtaking nature of McGeady’s skill and finish. The overall performance however was patchy, with a fine opening 20 minutes followed by a shaky last 20 minutes in the first half; little was happening in a dull second half until McGeady’s brilliance sent the travelling fans bananas in the 90th minute. Three points was three points however, job done. O’Neill’s tetchiness in the face of the post-match interview was disappointing and certainly misplaced, but as a results game, the perfect start.

Gibraltar were next up in October in Dublin. Matches against so-called “whipping boys” usually prove frustrating for Irish teams, but there are whipping boys and there is Gibraltar. Seven goals was a decent return (with Robbie Keane scoring a first half hat trick) with most of the talk again revolving around O’Neill’s selection as Germany away were next up three days later.   O’Neill made five changes from the Georgia game (Coleman and McCarthy were injured, with Quinn, Walters and Whelan “rested” ahead of Germany), with O’Neill again stating those rested wouldn’t necessarily return in Germany.

All those latter three did return as O’Neill sprung a real gamble by choosing McGeady in a role behind lone striker Keane to accommodate James McClean out wide (who had impressed in the Gibraltar rout). The McGeady gamble didn’t work, although the selection worked elsewhere as Germany never really opened Ireland up the way it was feared and Ireland looked quite comfortable despite Forde making one excellent save in each half.

Germany’s Kroos did however force O’Neill’s hand in the 70th minute when he scored from 25 yards with Hoolahan sprung from the bench (Hendrick had replaced the injured Whelan before the hour mark and Gibson replacing Keane prior to Kroos’ goal). Two of the three subs would play a huge part in a dramatic Irish equaliser as Hoolahan’s cross was deftly volleyed back across goal by Hendrick for John O’Shea to steer a glorious shot past Neuer in the German goal in the 93rd minute.

So a priceless point was stolen at the death from the World Champions, 7 points from the opening three games was a very fine haul for O’Neill and his team and the euphoria from that German game led to huge interest in Irish people looking for tickets to the November match against Scotland at Celtic Park.

The scramble for tickets has been well documented on this blog (see Archive for November) and the idiotic failings of the FAI in this regard. The match itself never really happened from an Irish point of view, as it seemed O’Neill’s mindset was to frustrate Strachan’s Scots and play for a point. Shaun Maloney’s 74th minute goal was the least Scotland deserved on a hugely disappointing night for O’Neill’s team.

So the four competitive games have resulted in 7 points, possibly what we would have expected when the draw was made (we would have written off getting anything in Germany) and our group remains extremely close at this point in time as we can see below.

Euro 2016 – Qualifying Group D – Latest Standings
Nation Played Won Drew Lost Goals F Goals A Points
Poland 4 3 1 0 15 2 10
Germany 4 2 1 1 7 4 7
Scotland 4 2 1 1 5 4 7
Republic of Ireland 4 2 1 1 10 3 7
Georgia 4 1 0 3 4 7 3
Gibraltar 4 0 0 4 0 21 0

I think as fans we can be reasonably happy with that state of affairs, but that there is serious room for improvement in general play and approach. After the bravery and delight at the point in Germany, the defeat in Glasgow was a bitter pill to swallow and the manner of it was worrying in my opinion. Ireland’s philosophy relied far too much on lumping balls up to Shane Long (who was deployed as the lone striker) and hoping that Walters would pick up loose ends, with McGeady and McClean helping from wide. None of that happened. By the time Keane came on after Maloney’s goal, Scotland sensed we were already a beaten team and we got what we deserved on the night, nothing.

The Scottish game was followed four days later by a convincing 4-1 win over USA with eye-catching debuts from David McGoldrick and Cyrus Christie in a much changed XI so the year finished on a relative high for O’Neill and it is hoped those fringe players who impressed will remain in Martin’s thinking in 2015.

So 2015 is a huge year now for Martin O’Neill and this group of players. O’Neill wasn’t helped by the absence of James McCarthy in Glasgow, but all international managers are hampered by unavailable players. What O’Neill needs to nail down is a recognisable playing identity among this current group and a consistency of performance for 90 plus minutes. Forget the Gibraltar games, everyone will slaughter them. Four of the next five games are in Dublin. Ten points would be great, nine is completely essential if we are to hope to reach the French Soirée the Summer after next.

I believe we will make it, but will give ourselves plenty of grief getting there!

Happy Christmas to you all and Peaceful 2015.

Phelim Warren, 17th December 2014.

Keane’s Staying! Now folks, can we focus on the players again?

2 Jun

roy-keane-44-390x285

Never second guess Roy Keane. You’d think that of all people, the press corp would’ve learned that. Terms like “past the post” and “done deal” were bandied about with confidence over the weekend regarding Celtic’s talks with Roy Keane over Celtic’s managerial vacancy. Despite Celtic’s Chairman Peter Lawwell insisting Keane was merely one of a number of candidates, all the smart (doesn’t seem so smart now) money was on Keane leaving his Assistant Manager’s job with the Irish team and shortly going through estate agents’ brochures to choose a Scottish house to live in.

Well as we know, earlier today Keane decided to remain on in his role as Ireland’s Assistant Manager. Whether he “turned down” Celtic is another matter and quite frankly irrelevant now. By the sounds of the Irish fans at the end of the game with Italy on Saturday, when they chanted his name, the majority I would guess are happy with his decision. I’m sure Martin O’Neill and John Delaney are delighted with his decision and finally, I’d be pretty certain the Irish players are delighted he’s staying.

Ah yes, the Irish players, remember them? There was a key Euro 2016 warm-up game for them in London on Saturday against World Cup-bound Italy. All the pre-match talk was of Keane and Celtic. All the post-match talk was of Keane and Celtic. In between those talks, O’Neill’s Ireland got a more than creditable 0-0 draw with the Italians. OK so it was a fourth game without a win following the opening 3-0 win over Latvia last November, but without doubt, the manner and style of the draw with Italy was in my opinion the most impressive and eye-catching performance in the five matches to date under O’Neill’s tenure.

Italy named their 23 man squad today, so Saturday’s game was more than a friendly for those players on the cut-line of Manager Cesare Prandelli’s thoughts and he named his team with this in mind. The young Italians started very impressively and had Ireland on the rack in the opening 15-20 minutes, with Ireland’s centre midfield pairing of Jeff Hendrick and David Meyler struggling initially with the Italian fluidity and movement. Things changed however, possibly due to the very unfortunate leg fracture to Italy’s Montelivo in an innocent collision of legs with Ireland’s Alex Pearce and also possibly due to the two Irish rookies getting to grips with things overall. Both Hendrick and Meyler showed admirable composure on the ball and bite in the tackle to gradually drive Ireland forward, thus enabling wide men, Aiden McGeady and Anthony Pilkington to threaten the Italian defence on several occasions in the first half.

It was from one such drive from Hendrick that led to a free kick that forced Sirigu to save Pilkington’s resulting effort and Pilkington showed real confidence and talent after Hendrick again and Hoolahan combined initially, with Pilkington most unfortunate to see his shot blocked. Meyler showed he can get forward also with a left footed drive that again forced a save from Sirigu and a really excellent Irish move saw McGeady get around the Italian defender from which Long really should’ve scored with the resulting header instead of allowing the by now very busy Sirigu to get across his goal-line and save.

In the second half, Ireland dominated the early exchanges and played with plenty of poise and confidence with barely a long or hopeful ball in sight. Hoolahan twice set up Long, with Long just failing to find McGeady the first time, while the second time forcing another save from Sirigu. Hoolahan, apart from his creativity again showed what a nonsense it had been that Trapattoni claimed Hoolahan physically lacked what Trapattoni felt was required at this level. Hoolahan will surely be one of the first names on the teamsheet in the opening qualifier in September given how he has performed for O’Neill thus far.

Italy regrouped and had their own period of dominance again but apart from a rightly disallowed Italian goal, David Forde was relatively untroubled as the Irish defence, superbly marshalled by John O’Shea coped and remained resolute, disciplined and organized. Ireland finished strongly, substitutes James McClean, Simon Cox and Stephen Quinn were all involved with the latter crashing a 10 yard drive off the underside of the Italian crossbar, with Quinn setting up McGeady for the rebound who forced yet another save from Sirigu. That was the Irish winning moment one felt but the game finished in a hugely enjoyable and energetic 0-0 draw.

While Brian Kerr in the Setanta studio was pleased, he advised us to not get carried away by the result or performance. Martin O’Neill however was understandably beaming and delighted with the efforts of everyone who played on the night (the match stats read 17 goal attempts to 8 in Ireland’s favour) and it probably gave him his best overall view of what he now has at his disposal, given that stalwarts such as Richard Dunne, Robbie Keane and James McCarthy were absent.

So five games into O’Neill’s reign and it’s a win, two draws and two defeats so far. Those statistics could very easily be three wins rather than one and overall, I think we can see the O’Neill philosophy on the game emerging with this group, slowly shedding the strait-jacketed system that Trapattoni imposed.

The fact that there have been few, if any, withdrawals for the two recent matches and the two games in the States against Costa Rica and Portugal to come seems to indicate that everyone wants to be in the frame for starting positions in September’s Euro 2016 qualifiers. Markers were laid down by otherwise fringe players such as Hendrick, Meyler and Pilkington to O’Neill that they will not let the team down if called upon. Regulars of the last couple of years such as McClean, Ward and Wilson know they have to earn their place in the team and while it’s expected that Richard Dunne will return to partner John O’Shea, others will know they’ll get their chance sooner rather than later.

O’Neill will however be concerned that Robbie Keane’s absence in the last couple of games has been very much felt in terms of Ireland not taking their chances. It was apparent in the defeats to Serbia and Turkey in Dublin and again apparent in the Italy draw. While it’s hugely commendable that Ireland are creating far more chances than that of the Trapattoni era, we can’t rely on Robbie Keane forever and for all Shane Long’s wonderful honesty, strength and aerial attributes, it’s a worry that he misses a far greater proportion of chances than he scores. We may pray we get another full campaign out of Robbie Keane to turn draws into wins at home, or defeats into draws away.

Overall however, the short-term future looks most encouraging and the manner in which Ireland are playing is a lot easier on the eye. The fact that Wes Hoolahan has always been a notable asset to the team so far points to the way O’Neill sees the path this team is taking. It is of huge importance that Hoolahan’s club situation is an improvement on last season. He needs to play, all the time.

Saturday’s performance will hopefully continue into the Stateside games with a win over Costa Rica and hopefully another good outing against surely a formidable Portugal. Robbie Keane will be back for those, Roy Keane is staying on for those. Both situations are welcome and we can now close the chapter on Roy’s situation for the forseeable future and let the players now get on with it.

Phelim Warren
@freewheeler12

YBIG Irish Fans’ Team get back to Winning Ways!

14 Oct

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Friday 11th October 2013, Cologne: Germany 2, Ireland 7

 

The YBIG Irish Fans’ team put two recent defeats against Sweden and Austria behind them on Friday to emphatically thump their German counterparts beside the Rhein Energie Stadion.  Ireland had won 5-0 in the Dublin game and expectation was that the Germans would provide a sterner test in their backyard.  The Irish team however, ensured the five goal margin would be repeated with a ruthless and extremely impressive performance.

 

From the off, Ireland were on the front foot and in the opening minutes, left winger Ian Kirkwood twice went close and in the 5th minute, captain Ross Zambra went even closer when he ghosted around some German tackles and struck the underside of the bar from the resulting shot.

 

More chances arrived in the opening 15 minutes with Kirkwood’s headers causing the home defence panic and eventually the floodgates (apt given the incessant rain) opened just past the 15 minute mark.  Zambra released Kirkwood with a lovely pass inside the full back and Kirkwood finished in Mesut Ozil style to dink the ball over the keeper, 1-0 Ireland.

 

The second wasn’t long in coming.  Zambra again was the architect, finding Kirkwood with a lovely ball and Kirkwood completely wrong-footed the German defence with a pass inside to Liam Murray and Murray slammed the ball home from 10 yards.  Lovely goal.  It should’ve been three just minutes later when  Adrian Heffernan’s pass from deep released Bob Bashford who was clear, but Bashford’s finish went past the far post. 

 

The third goal arrived on the half hour, a loose ball dropped into Zambra’s path 25 yards out and before anyone could say shoot, the ball was past the overworked German keeper and rattling the net.  Typical Zambra strike this one. 

 

The 3-0 lead saw the Irish team take the foot off the gas a little bit and momentum understandably wilted and the Germans got a goal back after 35 minutes when Ireland conceded a sloppy free kick 25 yards out and though Franny Carragher got a hand to the free, he couldn’t prevent it from going in, 3-1 Ireland.

 

Just on half time however, Ireland made it 4-1.  Germany’s corner was cleared and John O’Neill made space really well for himself and his pass found Zambra who ran from his own half unchallenged, rounded the keeper and scored with ease and that concluded the first half action.

 

Warren was able to give everybody plenty of 1st half minutes, so he started the second half with almost his strongest starting XI again and that proved  key in the opening to the second half as Ireland raced into a 6-1 lead within 10 minutes of the restart.  Zambra completed his hat trick with the fifth goal when Germany were unable to clear a left sided corner and when the ball went loose, Zambra’s low shot found the corner, sparking the first fan pitch invasion of the day.

 

Another goal and another invasion followed for the sixth goal, Liam Murray finally showing the centre forwards how it’s done when they initially fluffed their lines and when the Irish fans again invaded, it was left to Irish Fan Declan Foley to be unable to pick himself off the ground due to an overdose of Jaegermeister.  Alan Connolly re-entered the pitch to help his stricken and drunken fan out and Foley left the pitch to a terrific ovation.  Foley pulled a hamstring and missed the main match later on……….

 

Germany were awarded a penalty midway through the second half for what can only be described as sympathy as nobody could actually tell what the offence was, but nobody really minded either.  Ireland completed the scoring after 80 minutes when Ciaran Flanagan raced through but was foiled by the keeper, but Dave Hannon was on hand to score from a tight angle left footed and that made it 7-2 to Ireland.

 

So that was it, Ireland back to winning ways and despite the drenching everybody got, there was some excellent football to enjoy, some tremendous goals and Declan Foley’s cameo, which quite frankly, was hilarious.  A fine day’s entertainment all round with some of the players and fans happy that Paddy Power would be paying out on some of the bets they so kindly offered for this game, so a big thanks to “Chili” Ken Carney and Paddy Power for getting this together as well!

 

Ireland:  Fran Carragher; Adrian Heffernan, Kevin Haughey, Dave Byrne, Conor Higgins; Liam Murray, Ross Zambra, John O’Neill, Ian Kirkwood; Ken Carney, Mark Duggan; Ciaran Flanagan, Paul Flanagan, Bob Bashford, Francis Creaven, Damien Ryan, Dave Hannon, Fergus Bishop and Donnacha Hassey.

 

Report:  Phelim Warren.