Despondency in studio, on the pitch and on the couch

While the pundits tried to get their heads around it most had theirs in their hands

Despondant Ireland fans watch on in Clondalkin. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

Despondant Ireland fans watch on in Clondalkin. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

 

“We were flahed by the end of it,” said Keith Wood. He was explaining why Argentina were able to run in a river of tries in the closing stages but he may as well have been talking about the rest of us, sitting at home trying to keep up with a game that whistled and fizzed around the place like a cheapo firework. “For Dublin viewers,” Shane Jennings interjected, “flahed means tired.”

Tired? This went beyond tired. We were drained. We were bereft of life. We were, as ever, brought to our very knees by the frankly weird mixture of hope and fatalism that comes with watching Ireland as a national event.

The day started with the news that Ireland will play Bosnia and Herzegovina in the play-offs for Euro 2016. This, of course, is the perfect draw for our nation. Bosnia are just mediocre enough for us to be reasonably confident of taking them as well as just good enough for us to know that we’re probably going to make a pig’s dinner of it. You couldn’t have set up the day more perfectly.

Half an hour to kick-off and Conor McNamara has a bombshell from Cardiff. “There is fresh injury news for Ireland,” he says, making a whole country snap neck ligaments looking up at the TV. “Ian Madigan’s quiff is gone.” Oh boom-bleedin’-boom, Conor. Good gag and all but there’s a time and a place.

Anthems. The Argies are crying. They’re crying before they even get to the bit of their very long anthem when the singing starts. They’re crying angry, let-me-at-‘em tears. Two words spring to mind – Uh and Oh.

Three minutes gone. Try Argentina. Ten minutes gone. Two tries Argentina. Fourteen minutes gone. Penalty Argentina. Scoreline before we’ve even got to the quarter-way mark, 17-0. Eh, lads? You want to, y’know, wake up here?

Maybe a switch of channels will improve matters. Over on ITV, Brian O’Driscoll says Ireland look punch-drunk. He feels so strongly about it that he says it twice. Either that, or someone told him his microphone wasn’t working the first time. Even though it was. It’s starting to feel like one of those days.

Second Captains

Argentina celebrations

Hang on though. First, Argentina miss a penalty, Sanchez clanking the left-hand post. Within a minute, Ireland have crossed for a try up the other end. Aboy, Lukey Fitz, boy! Suddenly, it’s 20-10. It’s not great but it’s something.

Then, a moment of ugliness casts a pall over the whole day. Camera pans to the Irish crowd, some of whom are holding the sort of sponsored scrolls that darts has made popular. The idea, basically, is to give supporters the chance to send out a message should the camera pick them out during a game - you know the drill.

Most people have chosen just to write TRY! on theirs. But instead, with his team 10 points down, some hero Irishman has decided that this is the opportune time to hold up his banner declaring: ‘THE BOOM IS BACK.’ Ugh.

Half-time. In the interests of fairness, we set the stopwatch on the ITV ads this time around. Half-time lasted 15 minutes, 11 seconds. Total time spent on studio analysis - four minutes, 39 seconds. Ads nauseum.

Back to the game. Ireland out like demons. Jordi Murphy goes over for a try, made to measure for him by Luke Fitzgerald. Alan Quinlan is losing his reason in the ITV box - or at the very least losing his voice. “UNBELIEVABLE POWER!!” he roars. Somewhere, an SSE Airtricity ad-man (Dónal Draper) strokes a thoughtful chin and imagines a new campaign.

Ireland are back within touching distance now. The Argies get a penalty to make it 23-17 but it’s their first score in, like, a decade and we’re on their tails. Argentinean prop Herrera - already having been sin-binned in the first half - torpedoes into a ruck.

Could be another yellow, which would mean Argentina playing out the last 27 minutes with 14 men. Jerome Garces lets him off with a penalty. Camera cuts to Paul O’Connell. “That’s a f****** disg***,” says Paulie. Ian Madigan kicks the three, scoreline moves to 23-20.

“This could be an appropriate time,” chips in ITV commentator Martin Gillingham, “to mention that if we don’t have a winner after 80 minutes, there will be two periods of extra-time.” Appropriate? He’s lucky Quinny didn’t turn and wrench his head off his shoulders. This is two Sundays in a row of nerves and tension, of broken bodies and shredded minds. And now this goon is talking about extra time?

The end comes slowly at first. Devin Toner tries to tackle Sanchez but the diminutive Argentinean outhalf ducks into the collision. Toner doesn’t so much have to reach down a metre to try to stop him as descend a couple of thousand leagues. And even then, the tackle is still too high. Another penalty, another three. Argentina move 26-20 ahead.

Mistakes come. Madigan kicks out on the full. Henshaw knocks on. Errors. Drops. Fatigue extracts its price. Argentina ease into full flow again. Try. Try again. Game over. “No excuses,” says Shane Jennings back in the TV3 studio. “Argentina played better than us.”

They did. No arguments. Another World Cup gone, another semi-final left to other people. Flahed out, and no mistake.

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