Game over - and it wasn't fun while it lasted


VIEW FROM THE COUCH:‘IT’S A better start already,” said Mick McCarthy after two minutes, 16 seconds, the praise seeming a little premature, not least because we’d yet to hit the dreaded three-minute mark. But it was a lively start to what had been universally dubbed our “pride-salvaging exercise”.

So downcast have the RTÉ panel been about our Euro 2012 experience that there was half a notion that they might opt to show us Spain v Croatia live instead, but patriotism won out so we got to do the Poznan all over again in front of our tellies.

The permutations were straightforward enough for Italy, as Bill O’Herlihy explained: They had to win but needed the other game not to finish 2-2 or higher and if it finished lower – say, 1-1 – then Italy would have to win by 3-1 or more and 4-0 if they wanted to top the group so long as the other game didn’t finish 2-2 or higher but if it finished 0-0 then any class of Italian win would put them through as group winners. Simple enough.

The permutations were simpler still for Ireland – there were none.

It was time to hear the topic for the night’s social media poll – “Do you think Ireland will change their style tonight?” – but we never found out if anyone voted Yes because, by then, we’d hopped over to BBC3, only to be transfixed by their orange backdrop that made only the whites of Steve Staunton and Alan Shearer’s eyes visible to the viewer.

Anthems time. You know, someone at the Wall Street Journal actually went to the trouble of studying how many players from each Euro 2012 country sing their anthems and discovered that, at 63.6 per cent, Russia had the fewest crooners; Poland, Greece, England and Italy were top of the list with a 100 per cent record; and Ireland was level with Ukraine and the Netherlands on 72.7 per cent. The only disappointment about this research and the resulting list was that it didn’t have Spain bottom on zero – which, of course, would have called to mind Clive Tyldesley’s sublime observation from the 2010 World Cup about the wordless tune: “That shows the focus and concentration of the Spanish players, no one sang the anthem.”

Anyway, Gianluigi Buffon looked well up for it, as he often tends to do.

The Irish supporters sounded a bit animated too: “We’ll sing when we want, we’ll sing when we want, f**k off Roy Keane, we’ll sing when we want.” And after a mere seven minutes the fields were lying low again.

Back on the pitch, things were promising enough, but by the half hour Ronnie Whelan was sounding disheartened again, after an initial burst of enthusiasm, sensing something bad was about to happen. He took his mood out on Federico Balzaretti for “getting the hair right” because he knew the camera would be on him when he was booked. “Look at him,” he growled, as he fiddled with his ponytail. Federico, not Ronnie.

Darkening moods, then. Just before Italy scored.

“It was looking good up until a certain stage when it fell apart,” said Giles at half-time, which was a fair enough summary. “It’s better than the last two performances, but . . . ,” he added, shaking his head.

Then Bill put him through the ordeal of analysing Ireland’s collective contribution to the Italian goal. “We see Ward on the ball, straight to a blooming blue shirt . . . excuse me, I was going to curse there,” he sighed.

“McClean and Hunt are warming up!” said Bill, perking up a bit. But.

“I must correct my mistake, there are no changes at half-time,” he added.


Second half. Over on BBC3 Fernando Torres was being taken off for Spain, good to know he saved his best for ourselves. And, on a similar theme: Mario Balotelli. Goal. Just after Keith Andrews was sent off. Not quite the rousing conclusion we had pined for.

“Basically, we’re just not good enough,” said Ronnie, sounding like he’d has his fill and was heading for the airport.

Back in the studio: “By the lonely prison wall, I heard a young girl caaaaaaalling,” Bill, Giles, Dunphy and Brady were singing, their arms lovingly wrapped around each other’s shoulders.

Na. Gloom, and not a little doom. “Looking back on the three matches, I find it quite depressing,” said Giles, feeling as discontented as, you’d imagine, Darron Gibson and Stephen Hunt will be as they board their flight home.

All over. You’d love to say it was fun while it lasted, but.

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