Wes in, Roy smiling and Ireland pressing: it looks like the happy days are here again
The anticipation might just have been worth it, leaving even the crowd overdoing it a little
Roy Keane congratulates Wes Hoolahan after coming off. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
You know, when Tony O’Donoghue popped up on the Six O’Clock News to reveal to us the line-up chosen by Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane (ONK) for their first international in charge, it was a bit of a letdown that it wasn’t, say, Neuer, Lahm, Thiago Silva, Dante, Sergio Ramos, Schweinsteiger, Ronaldo, Ribery, Messi, Ibrahimovic and Suarez.
That’s the thing, we’ve been so busy pinching ourselves since the pair took charge of our international footballing dreams, black and blue and giddy with hope, some of us had forgotten that ONK actually have the same raw material to work with as the Trap man.
That’s not, need it be said, to disrespect our raw material, but still, if it was the Sunderland squad of old, ONK would most probably be asking the chairman for some transfer loot.
Kenny Cunningham, though, was happy, noting the winger-a-rama feel about the team, Aiden McGeady and James McClean both on board, granted the opportunity to bring back the Good Ol’ Days they’d experienced under our Martin.
And Wes Hoolahan too?
Now we’re whistling.
Oddly, in a turkey voting for Christmas kind of way, Niall Quinn lauded the inclusion of Hoolahan and the non-selection of a lofty man up front when he appeared on Sky Sports for the game, on punditry duty with Steve Staunton and Ray Houghton. Combined, the trio won in or around 97,000 caps, so Sky was opting for major punditry experience for ONK’s debut.
Ray, naturally enough, having been involved in the ONK-choosing process, and Niall were tingling with anticipation over the new era, but you sensed Steve/Stan had his doubts, him possibly not having sent the K of ONK a Christmas card in a while.
Pete Graves: “What do you think of this duo?”
Stan: “Very Interesting. Controversial. Yes.”
“Is Roy going to do as he’s told?”
Stan’s mood might not have been lightened by Sky’s review of Roy’s international career which, and you coulda flattened us with a feather, featured Saipan. Quite heavily. He was stoic about it, though, gnawing on his microphone as Ray and Niall suggested we all move on.
“We must remind ourselves, Martin O’Neill is the manager,” Niall said to Pete, the ON of ONK having hardly been mentioned in the opening 25-ish minutes of the coverage.
“Who?” Pete almost replied, before introducing us to a quick chat with John Delaney, who’s done more interviews than Michael Noonan in the last week. A lot, like.
The gist. Roy thought you were a plonker, have ye made up?
“Nobody is bigger than our country, John Delaney, Martin O’Neill or Roy Keane,” he replied, but in time we’ll forgive him for referring to himself in the third person and putting himself first in the list. And sure, if ONK prove a hit, we’ll forgive him anything.
Match time approaching. Not to suggest, at all, that a mid-November friendly against Latvia was humdrum-ish, but you half hoped Sky would say “press your red button to watch ONK on the bench for the next 90 minutes”.
Teams out. And Martin O’Neill in the house! Hug-your-telly time. But, BREAKING, no Roy Keane. Divil a sign of him. Had he not done what he was told, rejecting the age-old wisdom about assistant managers ‘should be seen and not heard’?
Flexing jaw muscles, too. Up for it.
Note: Roy in a tracksuit, Martin in a suit. And that means? Dunno.
Ireland? Pressing the living daylights out of Latvia – liking this, very much.
And 22 minutes later: Goooooooal. Keane. The other one.
Roy with a big smilie head on him, punching the air, Martin with a perfunctory clap. Gas. Loving this, very much.
“They’re all feeling good about life now,” beamed Niall at half-time, noting the big smilie heads on the players, “and the stadium erupted and everybody felt better about life.” Robbie? “I absolutely love him to bits.”
It was like Lassie Come Home, the most feelgood telly viewing of all time.
Second half and two more goals, the crowd even doing the Poznan, much to Ray’s delight.
He hates the Mexican Wave, intensely, so ways prefers the Poznan. At which point the crowd began Mexican waving, Ray falling silent.
“An exhilarating evening for us,” said Martin in his post-match Sky chat, but no smilie head on him, he’d left Roy to hug the players back in the dressing room and tell them they were Ireland’s Neuer, Lahm, Thiago Silva, Dante, Sergio Ramos, Schweinsteiger, Ronaldo, Ribery, Messi, Ibrahimovic and Suarez.
And then Sky finished up with that loveliest of tunes, Somewhere Only We Know by, of course, Keane.
“Is this the place that I’ve been dreaming of?”
With ONK in charge, most certainly.