It’s always exciting being a witness to history, even from the vantage point of a couch, Saturday night giving you a sense of what, say, viewers of the moon landing must have felt back in the day. On the face of it, it might have seemed like a small step, but for Stephen Kenny it was a giant leap: both Liam Brady and Martin O’Neill were kind-ish about him and his team after that game in Glasgow.
The evening had started ominously, mind. Martin was asked pre-match by his Premier Sports host Darrell Currie if he felt any awkwardness about being a touch critical of the current manager when he’d held the very same gaffer position not all that long before Kenny ascended to the throne.
Most – take former presidents – generally zip their lips no matter how tempted they might be to lambaste their successors immediate or down the line, but Martin hasn’t been shy at all during his punditry gigs about being a bit snippy on the subject of Kenny’s reign. Mick McCarthy too, as well as Brian Kerr, all of them, you’d reckon, a bit peeved by the notion that Ireland never played football that was easy on the eye until Kenny took over. And that results don’t matter if it’s exceedingly easy.
Martin, though, half agreed with Currie’s suggestion that he was in a tricky position. “For former managers to come in and start criticising, that’s a wee bit difficult …. however,” he said.
It was a biggish however. “Stephen has an idea about how to play the game… but you need to get results – this is a results business –…. he sometimes has a bit of a selective memory: he loses a couple of games and then goes back to matches they got a result in.”
Few memories were as selective as Martin’s during his time in charge, it should be said, but no matter. Anyway there’s enough cancelling going on this weather without our former footballing supremos not being allowed comment on our current footballing supremo. Comment away, lads.
Over on RTÉ Liamo was suggesting that this was a benchmark kind of night, that the key battle would be in midfield, him bigging up Scott McTominay and Callum McGregor like they were Xavi and Iniesta in their prime. Shay Given looked almost as confused as the rest of us.
Anthems time. They booed our tune, during which a lad held up an Easter Rising football scarf featuring the faces of the executed leaders, and not our midfield’s three Js, Josh Cullen, Jayson Molumby and Jason Knight. We need new heroes.
Ireland wearing orange, which must have really confused the Rangers fans in the stadium. Match time and John Egan found his inner Lewandowski, 1-0.
“Brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” said Liamo at the break, Shay confidently predicting that Ireland would double their lead. And then Scotland equalised. And then we missed a sitter. “Troy Parrott has to score there, he’s got acres of time,” as Stephen Kelly put it.
And then, penalty, and Scotland won. Our hearts? Ah stop.
But neither Liamo nor Martin took the opportunity to insert the boot, both saluting the performance and reckoning it augured well for the future. No, really.
“I really enjoyed it, going forward I’m happy,” said Liamo. “I think we’re going in the right direction. I think this team is growing under Kenny. I’m encouraged by what I saw tonight.” Strewth.
Martin, meanwhile, battled the cacophonous Hampden speakers, all the time trying to make himself heard while men in kilts bopped violently to the strains of Freed from Desire, to tell us that Ireland “can take heart from this performance tonight – I thought there were really good signs…. onwards and upwards”.
He was even defiant enough to battle fellow Premier Sports pundit Michael Stewart, a former Scottish international, over his lads’ tactics.
Martin: “You were talking about the risk and reward of Scotland playing so high up – can you tell me what reward they might get out of that?”
Michael: “Well, they’ve won the game.”
Okay, 1-0 to Michael, but at least Martin was wearing his heart on his green sleeve.
Dark clouds, though, over on Virgin Media. “He’s two years in to the job, and when you look at his track record, what is it?” Damien Delaney was inserting a pin into our balloon of hopefulness. “How long does this go on for? How long do you keep saying ‘we’re going somewhere, we’re going somewhere’.... we’re in quicksand, we’re sinking.”
Was he done? No. “Coaching comes with responsibility….I chose not to go down that route ‘cos I didn’t want it. But if you offered me what Stephen has, carte blanche, results don’t matter, I’d be interested.”
By the night’s end you wouldn’t have known whether to pop open the champagne or drown yourself in whiskey.