TV View: We won’t be giving up on these lads just yet, there’s something about them

A predictable defeat, a lesser foreseen performance of no little quality

The nation held its breath. Not, to be honest, in any anticipation of a glorious sporting night that would end up on Reeling in the Years, more because it was struggling to exhale in anticipation of what Le French might do to our lads.

RTE’s coverage kicked off with Joanne Cantwell wandering around an empty Irish dressingroom, leaving us wondering if the lads had opted not to turn up. And would you blame them?

Their visitors were, after all, the third ranked nation on earth, the 2018 World Cup winners, the 2022 runners-up, who pulverised the Dutch 4-0 in Paris last Monday, and are captained by Lionel Messi’s heir apparent. What’s not to fear?

But it was with no small relief that we then saw Ireland getting off their bus, although each and every one of the players was wearing the look of men about to face the guillotine.


Tony O’Donoghue did nothing to calm the nerves by bringing us the team news, Ireland’s line-up featuring fellas from – no offence – Rotherham, Sheffield United, West Brom, Derby and the like.

The French XI, meanwhile, was sprinkled with Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Juventus stars, only one of their starting line-up earning a living at a European minnow, Liverpool’s Ibrahima Konate.

“Mbappe is 24, Coleman is 34, that worries me a little bit,” said Tony of the Kylian v Killybegs matchup. The Novenas were mounting up.

Richie Sadlier tried to boost us by pointing out that there was, quite literally, nothing Stephen Kenny could do to beat France with the players at his disposal, so long as France chose to be France. And he suggested that if Kenny didn’t opt for a cautious (11-ish at the back) approach, “we’re going to get murdered”.

Kevin Doyle was no less upbeat. “I hope we don’t get embarrassed.”

But in fairness, only one fixture could have been worse than facing France in your Euro 2024 qualifying opener: Argentina. But as Kevin Keegan once pointed out, “Argentina won’t be at the Euros because they’re from South America.”

Teams in the tunnel. A tense Killybegs on the left, a beaming Kylian on the right, Gavin Bazunu caught throwing a quick glance in Mbappe’s direction, in a Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the wee donkey kind of way.

Anthems. La Marseillaise will never stop us wishing we were born French. A lovely Amhrán na bhFiann. “The hairs are standing up on the back of my neck,” said Darragh Maloney. Brian O’Driscoll in the crowd. The place bouncing. Up and running.

“Griezmann, Mbappe, Giroud….. you know all these players, you can do the commentary yourself,” said Darragh, feeling redundant.

But then a mad thing happened: Ireland weren’t pulverised in the first half. In fact they held their own, quite mightily, going in 0-0 at half-time.

“I’m happy,” said Shay Given, “clap along if you feel like a room without a roof,” Richie and Kevin should have replied, all three of the panel gobsmacked by Ireland succeeding in making France look like a team made up of Rotherham, Sheffield United, West Brom and Derby players.

Spirits were high, then. And high spirits always spell danger. The second half had barely resumed when a severely misdirected Josh Cullen pass fell to the feet of Benjamin Pavard and Bazunu was left stroking the air as Pavard inserted the ball in the back of his net.

Hearts? Crunched. Not least because it was a self-inflicted wound. And wounds of that variety, as we know, sting the most.

Stephen Kenny, having promised fire and ice ahead of the game, was left pacing his touchline in so frustrated a manner, he had the look of a man who wanted to breathe fire and pour ice all over the footballing Gods.

But did that goal open the floodgates? Did it heck. If it wasn’t for Mike Maignan’s net-minding for the French, our lads would now be preparing for an open-top bus parade celebrating a draw with Kylian and Co.

A predictable defeat, a lesser foreseen performance of no little quality. We won’t be giving up on these lads just yet, there’s something about them. They might end up on Reeling in the Years just yet.