Alaba puts the panel’s hopes to bed in the 296th minute

Pundits not entirely convinced by the selection of Conor Sammon

Shane Long watches his backheel beat Austria goalkeeper Heinz Lindner only to hit the post at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph:  James Crombie/Inpho

Shane Long watches his backheel beat Austria goalkeeper Heinz Lindner only to hit the post at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho


‘The anticipation is building in Dublin ahead of tonight’s game,” said a bubbly Pete Graves as he bid a Sky Sports howarya 15 minutes before battle commenced against Austria, the half-empty stand over his shoulder suggesting the anticipation wasn’t mounting half as feverishly as he suspected.

Shay Given and Niall Quinn, Sky’s well-qualified guests for the evening, with about 8,426 caps between them, resisted saying “look behind you”, but, happily, the stand filled up after a bit, the majority of the crowd still located under the Lansdowne handdryers before taking their seats, in the hope of defrosting themselves.

“It was Baltic in Sweden, it’s Arctic here,” brrrred Tony O’Donoghue over on RTÉ, and you worried for the band from Arranmore stationed out on the pitch because, as we all know, there’s no greater challenge than trying to breathe life in to frozen bagpipes.

Mind you, if you’ve ever experienced what Arranmore folk would categorise as a chilly day, you’d have been surprised the band wasn’t bedecked in speedos and bikinis on what they’d have regarded as a balmy evening, and by the sounds of their pipes when it came to anthem time, everything was functioning beautifully.

But would Ireland function beautifully?
]Niall and Shay weren’t sure, but both were happy to see James McCarthy retain his place, despite the reservations Giovanni Trapattoni had expressed about him before the Sweden game.

“You find at times it’s morse code almost,” said Niall of the manager’s utterances, but he was half hopeful that McCarthy and Co would do the dot dot dash business.

He wasn’t, though, entirely convinced by the selection of Conor Sammon, largely for fear the presence of a lanky front man would prompt his team-mates to just lump high balls in his direction. If you were a cruel sort you’d say this was akin to Zsa Zsa Gabor talking about the importance of sticking with yer marriage.

Eamon Dunphy was kinder to Sammon. Okay just kidding.

“He’s nothing more than a journeyman . . . he’s not good enough to play at this level . . . it’s a controversial decision . . . it could be a very expensive one . . . he’s obviously there to be a blunderbuss . . . he won’t make an impact on this match . . . it’s highly unlikely that he’ll trouble their defence.”

Go on, how many of you then put a tenner on Sammon to score a hat-trick? (Nothing ventured, nothing gained).

At first, it sounded like John Giles lost a tenner too. “I hope Sammon scores a hat-trick and we win,” he said, but he didn’t sound entirely convinced. “I’m amazed at the selection,” he added, which suggested he’d kept hold ofhis tenner.

Liam Brady was, as is his wont, a bit more positive about it all, reckoning the Stockholm performance gave us cause for hope. Eamon, and this would have floored the viewers, begged to differ with Liam.

On the evidence of recent home games, he said, “there is no reason to be optimistic tonight, believe me, there is every reason to believe we are going to be disappointed – it will be a stuttering, disjointed performance.”
“But it could be a stuttering, disjointed performance – and a win,” Liam suggested. But Eamon pursed his lips in an unconvinced kind of way.

And then Ciarán Clark’s mind wandered on 11 minutes, and Martin Harnik did his thing, and, oh God.

But by half-time half the nation had put another tenner on “Jonny B Goode” being the headline of the day after the Walters man completing a stuttering, disjointed first half display with two goals.

Eamon: "They came back with a bit of spirit – what they need to do now is get Wes Hoolahan on the pitch . . .”

Liam: “Ah Eamon, you can’t change the team now!” Eamon: “They need to get a win!” Liam: “We are winning!” Bill: "John?” John: “I’d leave well alone.”

Eamon: (Betrayed look).

The second half. It was unbearably long. (So long, Ronnie Whelan confused Austria for Australia, but we’ve all been there). The sight of an Irish team largely camped in its own penalty area, with fingers and toes crossed, while Austria had so much time and space to potter about they looked like a team of Lionel Messis, filled you with a sense that this wouldn’t end well.

And in the 296th minute . . . “Alaba punctures the Irish balloon,” as George Hamilton put it, at which point we got the hoover out to suck up those 296 broken-hearted pieces.

“This was torture,” said Eamon, “we’ve taken an awful kick, the substitutions were unbelievable.” And for once, Liam couldn’t disagree. At all, like.

Consensus: Hoolahan? Wherefore werth thou?

Bill: “Is the Trapattoni era over?”

Eamon: Totally. (“I don't want to see this guy around any more”).

Liam: No. “We can still qualify.”

Maybe, but, who’d put a tenner on it?