Chance to lay ghosts of Poznan to rest
The Republic of Ireland return to the scene of last summer’s fiasco
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill with John O’Shea during last night’s training session at the Municipal Stadium in Poznan. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Nine o’clock in the evening and Poznan is dark and cold and down on the pitch the Irish team are going through their warm-up drills and chasing away the last of their summer ghosts.
For Robbie Keane and the other survivors of last summer’s nightmarish experience in the European championships, this November visit to Poland must feel like revisiting the scene of a gruesome crime.
“The minute I walked through that door I remembered this room” Keane confessed with a smile, as Martin O’Neill sat by his side in a basement room of the football stadium. A 3-1 against Croatia and 2-0 against Italy are the condensed stories of Ireland’s football history in Poznan, during a fortnight when the Irish made more of an impression in the town square than on the pitch.
After a euphoric opening page of the O’Neill era, this unexpected return to the heart of Poland brought time to reflect on how much has changed how and how quickly.
“Not great memories,” Keane continued. “But that is the past. We are looking forward to playing a good Polish team and it is going to be a different test than Latvia.”
When it was suggested that a win against Poland tonight would help to erase the trauma of those prime time losses – and the rainy lesson handed out by the Spanish in Gdansk – O’Neill peered over the rim of his glasses and said quickly: “There is a fair difference, with respect. One is a friendly game. The other is a big tournament. I am hoping that he doesn’t get it out of his system for a while.”
During another chatty and charming audience with the Derry man, it was a sharp and important point. Poland and Ireland are meeting one another tonight because as football countries, they have a lot of hours to while away now. The celebratory atmosphere at Lansdowne Road the other night was replaced by the more sombre reality of an inconsequential friendly in Poland. O’Neill has the dilemma of finding himself in charge of an excited squad itching for games but with no games to play.
“And I have found the enthusiasm of the players to be really infectious,” he said. “Today was the longest day – to arrive late last night and not have a chance to do anything this morning other than a walk. So we are training this evening.”
That is what happens to teams who miss out on the big tournaments: they go for midwinter walks in pretty Polish towns. O’Neill confirmed his intention to play a different hand this evening, rightly praised the ferocious devotion which Robbie Keane treats his Irish vocation and sounded a little like a weary schoolmaster when he dealt with the minor scandal of James McClean adventures in Twitter-land.