Reality check all right but really Roy . . . shut up


VIEW FROM THE COUCH:‘You’ll never beat the Irish,’ the crowd roared, at which point Torres scored

JOHN GILES began the day by reminding us that stranger things have happened in football, like Colchester beating Leeds in the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1971. That prompted a surge of confidence among RTÉ’s viewers, 75 per cent of them voting “yes” in the latest poll: Ireland could get a positive result against Spain.

“And sometimes you just have to believe,” said Bill O’Herlihy, and he was right.

Despite Michael Robinson’s forecast, that the dwarf would sting like a butterfly before being pummelled by the bee, Colchester proved anything is possible.

“And Michael Robinson wasn’t exactly Pele,” said Eamon Dunphy.

“He thought he was,” said Liam Brady, who, like his colleagues appeared to be sporting hair as green as his tie, but that proved to be the reflection of the studio lighting. Disappointing, it would have been a nice touch.

Breaking news from Tony O’Donoghue: Simon Cox in, possibly even in midfield, Kevin Doyle out.

“I would be astonished,” said Eamon, while Liam was sceptical, highly sceptical, about the reliability of RTÉ’s footballing sources: “George Hamilton told us Di Matteo wouldn’t get the Chelsea job – and he got it the next day!”

Some time later: confirmed. Simon Cox in, possibly even in midfield, Kevin Doyle out.

“Is he losing the plot a small bit?” Bill asked Liam, a little tentatively, of Giovanni Trapattoni’s selection, but Liam, having just texted his apology to Tony, was having none of it. Yes, he was puzzled by the Cox business, but he remained defiant: “Bring it on!”

Then the panel had a metaphysical discussion about all sorts, including the respective merits of Italy and Croatia’s star middle men.

Bill: “Who else, apart from Modric and Pirlo, have that kind of vision?” John: “Xavi.” Liam: “Iniesta.” Eamon: “Fabregas.” Liam: “All playing for Spain!” At which point he inserted his head in his hands.

Time for a brief appearance by Jedward who wished OMG Ireland well. You know, some of us would pay anything to witness a meeting of Jedward and John Giles, but we fear it will never come to pass.

Italy v Croatia out of the way, time for the biggie.

“Okey doke, Simon Cox is in,” Bill confirmed. And the misfiring Fernando Torres was in for Spain too, so where there was no goalscoring life there was hope.

Anthems. The camera ran along the Spanish line-up and all you could really say was: “Mother of Jesus.”

Iniesta and Xavi v Andrews and Whelan. Sort of like Montserrat Caballe v Mary Byrne.

“There is the possibility of light at the end of tunnel,” said George Hamilton, “equally there is the possibility of despair.”

You know, this wasn’t helping us believe Ireland could do a Colchester.

Game on. Heroic mass defending, a hoof up-field. “You’ll never beat the Irish,” the crowd roared, at which point Torres scored. Timing is everything.

“They seem to have left their brains in the dressingroom,” said Ronnie Whelan, of Ireland, not Spain.

George: “Arbeloa, Busquets, Alba, Pique, Alonso, Xavi, Silva, Xavi, Iniesta, Xavi, Iniesta, Torres, Xavi, Silva, Iniesta, Xavi, Torres, Silva, Xavi, Iniesta, Torres, Silva, Xavi, Iniesta, Xavi, Silva, Xavi, Iniesta, Xavi, Iniesta, Torres, Xavi, Silva, Iniesta, Xavi, Torres, Silva, Xavi, Iniesta, Torres, Silva, Xavi, Iniesta, Xavi.”

It was, you sensed, going to be a long night.

“But we’re only one goal down,” Bill beamed at half-time, which was entirely true. But the problem was: there was a second half to come.

And you know yourself.

Late on, Spain replaced Torres with Cesc Fabregas; Ireland replaced Glenn Whelan with Paul Green. You could rest your case right there, no shame in losing comprehensively to these floating butterflies, one of the more glorious sporting sights we’ll ever lay eyes upon.

The closing minutes, 4-0 down and the supporters raised their voices, to roof-splitting levels. Peter Drury was nigh on speechless over on ITV, more used to snarling nastiness when things don’t go right for his national team. The singing didn’t put points on the board, but it was a thing of loveliness.

Mercifully, there was no snarling from the RTÉ panel either, just sadness about the magnitude of the defeat, and an acknowledgment that the Irish team gave it everything and more against the best in the business.

“They’re a credit to football, the way they play the game, we came up against a team that was just too good,” said Giles.

“Chasing shadows,” admitted Keith Andrews when he spoke to Tony O’Donoghue on the pitch. Over on ITV. “It’s a reality check for a lot of the Irish team, a lot of them think they’re top players, it goes to show they’re so far behind,” said Roy Keane.

Roy? Love you. But shut up.

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