TV View: A grand evening but Ireland defeat only stretches patience
Don’t expect a flurry of December deliveries after Iceland edge a dour Aviva friendly
Stephen Gleeson’s third international cap came 10 years after his first. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
For those heretics who dispute the notion that football is life, yesterday’s news from the London Independent that Iceland had experienced a record-breaking baby boom nine months on from Euro 2016 might have prompted a re-think. Not least because it was around the time their squad was setting sale for France last summer the news came that the country’s fertility rate had plunged to levels not seen since records were first kept in 1853.
That was a whole lotta love generated, then, by their Euro 2016 exploits, but it’s hard to imagine those figures being replicated next December, with late March friendlies in Dublin rarely stirring those levels of passion.
Still, now that’s there a grand stretch in the evenings, there are worse things to be doing than kicking an international ball about the place, and to mark our first meeting in almost 20 years with the Baby Boomers, eir Sport assembled a panel that had close to 300 caps between them: Kevin Kilbane, Richard Dunne, Gary Breen and Keith Andrews.
Four fifths of “a cracking five-a-side team, but we’d be short on goals,” noted our host Connor Morris, but if you sent Dunnie and Breenie up for set-pieces and got Zinedine Kilbane to whip them in, with Keith waiting for any scraps at the edge of the box, you’d be laughing. By half-time, Martin O’Neill must have been tempted to throw all four on.
Time for a quick chat with Preston’s Dundalk imports Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan, Boyle possibly making one of the panel feel a bit prehistoric when asked who inspired him when he was growing up: “Richard Dunne.” There’s only 12 years between them, mind, but when you learn you were a poster on the bedroom wall of a current member of the senior squad, the gap might feel considerably wider.
Debuts for Conor Hourihane and John Egan. Expectations of Hourihane? “The modern midfield player has to be able to defend, they have to be able to get forward, they have to be able to have a shot at goal, they have to be able to control the game as much as possible … I’m not expecting too much of him, am I,” Martin O’Neill asked eir Sport man Adrian Barry who we couldn’t see but you guessed he was nodding.
Proud night for Captain Robbie Brady? It was, said Martin, who hoped the extra responsibility “means he wouldn’t throw the ball away stupidly … he might show he’s growing up a little bit”. In rare form, the gaffer. Although Adrian failed to ask him the question that really mattered, ie why has Roy Keane got a Kim Jong-un haircut? Did he lose a bet?
Speaking of unfortunate hair-related matters - eir should have put more thought in to their hashtag for the game: #IRLICE.
Game time. Two 4-4-2s. Last seen in international football when the game was played with a pig’s bladder.
The opening 20 minutes were much like you’d fear from a late March friendly, not tremendously uplifting, prompting a section of the crowd to entertain themselves by Thunderclapping. Kind of like a Mexican Wave without having to get out of your seat. Our Icelandic visitors must have thought their thieving hosts had a nerve, a little like if they started Riverdancing.
And they were Riverdancing, as it proved, when Hordur Magnusson gave Iceland the lead from that free-kick. “A lot of trajection, there’s nothing that Kieran Westwood could do about it,” said Keith, whose word creation was the most inventive thing to happen in the first half, apart from the goal.
Kev and Dunnie were down in the dumps come the break, largely because they’d lost 45 minutes of their lives that they’d never get back. Both pined for an Irish move that involved motion in a forward direction and an absence of sideways passing, with maybe even a dollop of ball retention. “Just take a few more risks,” begged Dunnie, speaking for the nation.
Second half. You’d be tempted to start Thunderclapping yourself, just to pass the time.
The introduction of an avalanche of subs injected a little bit of life in to the proceedings. “There’s been 10 years between cap number two and cap number three for Stephen Gleeson, ” Des Curran told us, which must have tested Gleeson’s patience as much as the game tested the crowd’s.
Des then asked Keith to name his man of the match, a task he clearly relished. “Eh.” A brief scratch of his head, not due to #IRLICE hopefully. “I have to be perfectly honest, it hasn’t been an evening of fantastic performances,” he said, commendably polite. In the end he opted for Robbie Brady because he was captain, which was as good a reason as any.
The highlight of the evening came in the 95th minute: the final whistle.
A nice outcome for the Icelanders, but possibly not one that stirred the passions sufficiently to have them rushing home to make babies. We’ll wait for December, though, when the results will be in.