A lot of syllables for an opening chapter


TV VIEW:The lads on RTÉ had some big names and good games to wrap their tongues around

DAY ONE and Bill O’Herlihy showed his panel the Polish and Greek team-sheets, featuring Jakub Blaszczykowski, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Avraam Papadopoulos and the like. John Giles shuffled uncomfortably in his seat, but Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy were game, almost needing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation after their pronunciation attempts.

Come half-time there was talk of Papastathopapapapapaoulos’s red card, Brady in particular being a bit lavish with his syllables, although Giles, wisely enough, just opted for “the Greek lad, Bill”.

So, we were up and running, the build-up having started the moment Euro ’88 ended. “We’ve waited a long time for this,” said Bill, and indeedin’ we had. There are youngsters out there for whom Stuttgart ’88 might as well be the Battle of the Boyne. You know, dim and distant history and all that.

Over in Warsaw, Ronnie Whelan and George Hamilton were setting the scene, Ronnie already a bit fatigued thanks to the noise of the crowd and traffic around the city. “I missed my afternoon nap,” he yawned, telling George he’d even been disturbed by, of all things, vuvuzelas.

Meanwhile, back in the studio, the panel was discussing Ireland’s prospects, Brady a bit downbeat, but Dunphy so upbeat he made even Bill seem a bit woebegone. Later, he revealed his hurt on being accused off-screen by Brady of only being buoyant so that he could give Giovanni Trapattoni a right lash when it all went wrong. Brady just smiled. A bit wickedly, too.

“Liam said Croatia are a great team,” said Dunphy.

“I didn’t say they’re a great team. Don’t start – this is only our first night!”

“Game on baby!”

Giles gave the pair a clip on the ear, almost, and advised caution when it came to Ireland’s hopes. He didn’t see any great reason to be confident, although “it’s better to be optimistic than pessimistic, but you have to be realistic”.

It could be our national motto, that.

So, Poland v Greece. “I know very few of the players Bill, I have to be honest,” said Brady, while Giles could only tell us “Greece are very difficult to beat, Bill”.

We popped over to the BBC just to check if they had a little more insight. “Neither side will want to get beaten,” said Alan Hansen, so we went back to RTÉ.

Time, first, for the opening ceremony. A blue pitch, lots of children and colourful hats with stringy things hanging from them, a giant leather, glittery piano emerging from a ball that split in half, musical notes running around the place, a Chopin tune, then a DJ in a gold shirt spinning a record on a deck lodged in the grand piano, then lots of mini football stadiums dancing on the pitch and then a human football formed. You know, the usual stuff.

And then the pianist attempted some keepy-uppies. “Maybe he should stick to playing the piano,” said George when he failed, sadly, to keepy the ball uppy at all.

“Did you enjoy it?” George asked Ronnie. “Yes, I thought it was very good actually,” he fibbed, having snuck in his missed nap as soon as Chopin filled the air.

The football? Oh yeah. A bit of a cracker, as it proved – and which one of us didn’t expect that of Poland v Greece? It just couldnt be worse for Greece, noted Mark Bright back on the BBC (“Tell us about it,” replied the nation) when they went a goal and a man down, but then Wojciech Szczesny went out of his way to confirm Brady’s suspicion that he’s not the “finished article” by giving away a goal, a penalty and getting himself sent off. Not ideal.

Full-time, 1-1, and Bill (Poland) and Giles (Greece) couldn’t agree on who had blown it more, so they agreed to differ.

There was a fair old chunk of time to fill before the next game, so the panel did a bit of reminiscing. Giles revealed that in all his time with Leeds he never had a sing-song, in contrast to his international days when the singing never stopped. Dunphy alleged that Giles picked Ray Treacy as often as he did for Ireland because he was a great banjo player, Giles alleging back that Dunphy used to have a clarinet in his room but still “never got past 23 caps”.

You know, Aprés Match will have their work cut out to top the real thing.

Mind you, they has as promising a start as Russia in the end with that rather exquisite take on Crystal Swing. ‘Do The Put ’Em Under Pressure Hucklebuck’? Trapattoni should play that in the dressing room before the Croatia game. Perfect.