Aloof Germans shaken up by heroic McCarthy and Walters

Reigning World champions shown up by the tireless effort of Ireland's midfield pair

A night like this only ever lives on in flashbacks. Shane Long has missed more than he's scored for Ireland and will, on all known form, spend the rest of his time keeping to that ratio. But they'll be playing and replaying his Hotshot Hamish connection past Manuel Neuer long after he and we and they are all dust.

Yet scoring the winner is one thing, winning the game is quite another. And while Long's strike lives on, those of us who were here will walk around with the imprint of the night's work put in by James McCarthy and Jon Walters tattooed on to us. Neither had a shot at goal, neither created a chance. But between them, they took Germany by the ankles and shook them till their pockets were empty.

If ever a team came to Lansdowne backed by the entirely wrong presumptions, it was this German one. From their prematch press conference on Wednesday where Martin O’Neill’s side barely got a mention to the dreamlike state in which they glided through the game before Long’s goal, they applied themselves to this Euro 2016 qualifier like world-weary teenagers.

They played as though sweating or even rudimentary running was all a bit too much hassle in the castle. Mesut Ozil trundled through the game as though affronted by the very idea of having to put in two performances in the space of four days. His first half chance was a glaring sitter but he missed it because it just seemed far too much effort to give his left leg a full swing.


Aloof performance

It was a German performance of disengaged hauteur, aloof and thoroughly unsuited to the task at hand. They didn’t understand that this Ireland side is one that can get notions if given half a chance and that they need to be disabused of those notions as early as possible.

Germany played as if they knew they their goal was coming. McCarthy and Walters were chief among the reasons it never did.

In the face of German conceit, they skipped around the pitch as magnificent nuisances, pains-in-the-arse from start to finish. They got a foot in here, a body check in there. They kept possession for that extra second when Ireland needed a breather, turned 50-50s into 51-49s. They brought what the night required, everything that Germany did not.

Coming of age

For McCarthy, this was a coming of age. Right from his first appearance in an Ireland jersey, we've been making claims for him and having to swallow them nearly as soon as they were out of our mouths. We've watched him play for Everton like a classy, to-the-manor born Premier League midfielder and wondered where that guy disappeared to when his shirt turned from blue to green.

Turns out that we were imagining him to be something he wasn't. In the partnership between him and Glenn Whelan, we figured he was Morecambe to Whelan's Wise. We looked to him for the creativity when he was the straight man all along.

This is who he is – a covering midfielder who is most comfortable reading the game and turning it his team’s way.

About 18 months ago, Roy Keane urged us not to think of him in his image but there were times last night when Keane's was the only comparison that would stand up to scrutiny.

Midfield chase

As the second half wore on the belief began to course through the stadium, it was McCarthy's interventions that lifted the place a decibel at a time. He haunted Ozil like a clamper with a hangover, intervening to break his heart at every turn. He chased down Kroos and covered in front of John O'Shea and Richard Keogh, never wasting a ball if he could help it.

As for Walters, he carried on exactly as he has been throughout this campaign. He got his body in the right position, he used his close control to shelter the ball and draw fouls, he worked like a dog, albeit a particularly streetwise one.

There are better footballers around but if the tables for this qualifying campaign throughout Europe tell us anything, it's that international football isn't about having the best footballers. It's about having enough who know how to turn a game their own way.

McCarthy and Walters did that last night and Germany never quite understood the game they were playing.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times