TV View: No more heartbreak as Ireland prove there’s many ways to skin a bear

Ireland v Finland: Irish supporters now working out playoff opponents, a task that would have puzzled Pythagorus

“Don’t sell the skin of a bear before you shoot him,” Vera Pauw had warned us ahead of this exceptionally crucial meeting with Finland in Tallaght, and while, mercifully, not many of us in these parts get to either shoot nor skin bears, the gist of her message was clear enough: we really shouldn’t be counting our chickens before they hatch.

It was reminiscent of that time Giovanni Trapattoni left Irish reporters asking ‘wha?’ when he tried to temper their Euro 2012 qualifying expectations, despite that 4-0 first leg playoff win over Estonia. “The cat is in the sack, but the sack is not closed. The cat is in it, but it’s open – and it’s a wild cat.”

Read more

It was then that the nation realised that whatever Manuela Spinelli was getting paid for her interpreting skills, it’s wasn’t even close to half enough.

But Pauw needed no interpreter, “it is a very hard and long road to go still,” she said of the World Cup qualifying journey, a message, perhaps, to those of us who were worried because we weren’t too worried ahead of the game, due largely to the ever increasing faith this bunch of players has convinced us to have in them.


Finland, of course, could throw the bears, chickens and cats among the pigeons if they left Tallaght with three points in their luggage, but while the RTÉ panel of Lisa Fallon and Karen Duggan were cautious-ish, they saw no reason to be too worried about not being worried.

“We have to get rid of wanting to be the underdogs,” as Karen put it, being favourites was “a good pressure to be under”.

Which is true. These players, after all, appear not to be burdened by the notion that the best Ireland can ever hope for is gutsiness that ultimately ends in narrowly-missing-out-heartbreak.

Still, Lisa put a slight pin in Jacqui Hurley’s bubble of optimism by suggesting that the Finns weren’t coming to Tallaght just for some shopping in The Square, they too would quite like to book the runners-up spot in the group behind the over-the-horizon Swedes. And with a miserable Euro 2022 behind them, and a new coach on board, they would be well up for proving they’re no spent force.

And so it proved. Half an hour in to the first half, Finland thoroughly bossing the proceedings, George Hamilton suggested to his co-commentator Stephanie Roche that “they’re feisty, these Finns, aren’t they?” “Hmm,” said Stephanie, both of them, no more than ourselves, having rediscovered the art of worrying after an opening spell which suggested that the cat could still escape from the sack.

“Fair to say, it’s been nervy,” said Jacqui at the break, Karen and Lisa nodding dolefully, both of them agreeing that, tactically, Ireland were bereft. “Aimless”, “too conservative”, “concerning”, and so on. The mood was glum.

Second half.

Go on Lily Agg, ya good thing.

And Lisa could take credit for Agg’s game-defining contribution, telling us at full-time that when she managed her at London City Lionesses, Agg let her know that “my Granny’s from Cork!”

A divine intervention, as most Corkonian interventions are, Agg’s winner prompting full-time celebrations that would leave you wanting to hug yer telly.

“It’s an outpouring of emotion, it’s laid a lot of ghosts to rest,” said Karen, who endured her own fair share of soul-destroying days in an Irish shirt, so little wonder she savoured this moment more than most.

“This is a big moment for women’s football in this country,” said Lisa, but then Jacqui, heroically tried to explain the playoff permutations to us, and you realised the journey has a few miles to go yet.

Permutations, incidentally, that would have left even Pythagorus scratching his chin. But no matter, the fact was that Ireland had earned themselves a shot at making it to the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Happy days.

“What a night, what an achievement,” said George, as the camera picked out Louise Quinn and Diane Caldwell hugging the bejaysus out of each other, two players who have been complete and utter warriors for Ireland down the years, the prospect of them making it to a World Cup enough to leave you in shreds.

When Tony O’Donoghue finally removed Pauw from the on-pitch celebrations, she was highly elated, but still in “don’t sell the skin of a bear before you shoot him” mode.

“We’re not there yet, we’re half-way,” she said, “let’s celebrate, but not party.”

Fair enough. A long way to go. The cat is in the sack, but the sack is not closed. And it’s a wild cat. And the bear hasn’t yet been shot, never mind skinned. And the chickens are still to be hatched.

Still, let’s party. This has been a journey like few others, even reaching the playoff stage, leaving Finland in their wake, is a triumph.

“Please God they’ll make it,” said Stephanie.

Candles lit.