Frigid Ireland fail to thaw as Germans turn up heat
VIEW FROM THE COUCH:“THE WORST in my lifetime,” said Ronnie Whelan, marking the end of a tortuous night of watching the Irish football team on television. There were nights when watching the boys in green on the box united this country. After 90 minutes against the Germans, those glory nights seemed distant and gone.
Ireland’s 6-1 defeat to Germany was a slow descent into nowhere.
Good omens were few and far from the start. The performance of the Clew Bay Pipe Band, who played a disturbingly beautiful version of the German anthem that seemed to unnerve the visitors, was something to behold.
And the minute’s applause for James Nolan, the poor Irish fan who tragically lost his life during a drowning accident in Poland, was heart-warming. It was some tiny consolation for his friends and family to see the glittering German squad and Irish players whom the young man had followed applauding his memory.
In fact, the fair play ritual, during which Bastian Schweinsteiger and John O’Shea read out some fine sporting sentiments, went well too. The mood in the stadium seemed terrific and it seemed to rub off on the visitors.
German fans watching at home got to see the lesser spotted Bastian Schweinsteiger smile before the match. This wasn’t good. Ireland had been banking – rather heavily, as has been the national form recently – on a German loss of spirit. The rumour all week was that something was amiss.
What was required was an evening of bucketing rain in Dublin, a torn-up field, and, perhaps, metered electricity and hot water in the dressingrooms just to hammer home the extent of the austerity measures. But it was a perfect autumn night and the Germans were in fine fettle and that could only mean one thing.
In the studio, Brady, Giles and Dunphy tried to drum up a few encouraging words, but their hearts weren’t in it.
“Can they get rid of the frigidity – if there is such a word?” Bill demanded of his panel.
“There is such a word as frigidity,” sighed the Dunph. “I can assure you of that.”
“You are talking about football, I hope,” Bill said with a chortle, which was a valiant attempt to inject some sauciness into a sombre evening. But nobody bit. There was a sense of resignation about the studio, the kind of mood that comes with playing against a country to whom billions and billions of quid is owed and which is more or less incapable of fielding poor football teams. But the panel was agreed on one thing. They were happy that Séamus Coleman was in the team.
Ireland’s big tactic seemed to involve Keith Fahey trailing Mesut Ozil (if this international clarified anything, it is that no football commentator pronounces Ozil’s name as lyrically as George Hamilton. And practice made perfect. Statistics showed Ozil was on the ball several thousand times in the first half alone).
After that, there was no good news to report. There was, as Ronnie Whelan said repeatedly, his voice breaking, “a gulf in class”. The first two goals were merely the stuff of technical excellence by Marco Reus. By half-time, Ireland were down 2-0, out of ideas and the Dunph was talking darkly about “a malaise”, which is never a good sign.
“I think Ireland will get tired in the next 20 minutes and Germany could have more goals, yes,” Didi Hamann said with a tinge of regret. Indeed.
The third came from a penalty, the result of an agricultural tackle by Darren O’Dea on the shapely gam of Miroslav Klose.
“What the hell do you do a tackle like that for?” groaned Ronnie. It was a fair question. Klose then scored the fourth and it was an exercise in geometric cruelty.
“That’s knowing your angles,” purred George in admiration, before telling us that Klose “only scores inside the box.”
After 56 minutes, the Germans had not only rediscovered their zest for life, they looked like they might score 10. Toni Kroos scored a volley and there was really nothing more to say.
“We need someone,” Ronnie pleaded. “You don’t want to be embarrassed.” But at 0-5 down, we were well past embarrassment.
“It’s all pretty sad.” It was. And there was nothing more to say. I half hoped that when the match was over, we would return to find the studio empty and the lights turned out, perhaps Gilesy’s trilby sitting on the table alongside the pen that the Dunph threw across the studio during Italia ’90.
Or maybe RTÉ’s Mischief Brigade – Craig Doyle and Brendan O’Connor and whoever else – would be sitting there being Great Gas. But no. The trinity was still in place, there until the bitter end, ashen-faced.
“This isn’t Ireland. This isn’t us,” the Dunph said, before once again laying the blame squarely at the feet of Giovanni Trapattoni.
“We can’t go on with this coach and something has to be done.”
In fact, the Dunph went on to say he wouldn’t mind seeing Mick McCarthy back on the Irish sideline. It has all come full circle. Eventually, talk turned to the Faroe Islands, where Ireland play on Tuesday. Suddenly, a 0-0 draw looked attractive.
“Aren’t we just fooling ourselves?” Bill asked the boys. It wasn’t clear if he was talking about football anymore and it didn’t matter. The answer was yes. And haven’t the Germans being telling us that for some time now?