Nights like the one Tuesday gave us, when two Republic of Ireland games clashed, might be a breeze for tech savvy multi-screen young persons, but for some of us trying to see them both at the very same time it was a trial, the low-point coming when Telly Bingo popped up on the RTÉ Player rather than our under-21′s game in Tel Aviv.
That wasn’t, it should be said, the RTÉ Player’s fault, they get enough abuse as it is, although if they could have put a big arrow pointing to the tussle with Israel, rather than having us clicking through all their light entertainment boxes, that would have been helpful.
It was, of course, easier to watch our big lads’ meeting with Armenia, it being on the telly, although with Gavin Bazunu, Nathan Collins, Jason Knight, Michael Obafemi and Troy Parrott all actually young enough to have been playing in Tel Aviv, Stephen Kenny was giving youth yet another fling.
Our panel were trusting that it would be a night of heavy entertainment, even if they found it a touch chilly, Tony O’Donoghue describing it as “nice and cold, damp and dewy”. Back in Tel Aviv, meanwhile, all that was damp were the Irish shirts, the lads sweating like bricks in the balminess of it all.
Tony brought us the team news and said that this was “an Armenia side that have struggled against everyone except the Republic of Ireland,” needlessly reminding us of that 1-0 defeat in Yerevan back in June.
Stephen Kelly drew the short straw, Liam Brady and Shay Given wiping the sweat from their brows when Joanne Cantwell chose him to tell us who in the Armenia line-up we should look out for.
“The lad who scored the goal is a very influential player,” he said. Liam and Shay nodded.
Despite losing to them last time around, Liam confidently asserted that “they’re inferior to us,” telling us that he’d done his homework. “I watched the Ukraine v Armenia game...” He paused, donning the face of a broken man, like he’ll never get back those 90-plus-added-time-minutes. Which he won’t.
But, he was defiant-ish when Joanne challenged him about his upbeat-ness after the Scotland defeat, although some of the grumpy Liam resurfaced when she wondered why Chiedozie Ogbene wasn’t in the starting line-up when he was “scoring lots of goals for Rotherham”.
Liam chewed his gum, only just stopping himself from saying, “because it’s only F***ing Rotherham”.
Off we went. A mere 18 minutes on the clock when the captain only went and scored again. Stephen Kelly was exultant. “John Egan, the new Shane Duffy!”
Back in Tel Aviv, still 0-0, the lads drippin’.
Back in Dublin. Only 1-0 at half-time, Liamo and the lads drippin’ with anxiety themselves.
Back in Tel Aviv. Not a whole lot happening, so George Hamilton began reminiscing about the 1978 World Cup and referee Clive Thomas and him blowing his whistle nano-seconds before Zico headed home the “winner” against Sweden, Alan Cawley chuckling, like George was talking about a spat back in the Stone Age. Which he kinda was.
Extra-time, still 0-0, penalties. Alan just about remembered the dim and distant past of 1990, reminding George of his part in that slice of history. And, once again, the nation was holding its breath.
After that? Best not talk about it. “This is all going wrong,” said George. We were mullered in the shoot-out. Three of our boys’ penalties saved. “The dream is over,” he concluded, our European Championship-qualifying hopes done and dusted.
Back to Dublin. At least there our spirits would be raised, by then Michael Obafemi having made it 2-0.
But. 2-1. 2-2.
“It’s hard to watch,” said Stephen.
“It’s unfathomable,” said Des Curran.
It was too.
But then VAR, bless its cotton socks, gave us a penalty, Armenia so peeved they had just the two men sent off for objecting to the decision. Although, after the night that was in it, you wouldn’t have been taking penalty-converting for granted.
Go wan Robbie Brady, ya good thing. A 3-2 win, never a doubt.
“Complacency took over,” Liam sighed at full-time, by now his head minced from figuring out if the future is bright or gloomy. But sure, the not knowing is half the fun. It’s Sergeant Kenny’s Magical Mystery Tour.