TV View: After Swiss defeat it’s time to light the candles folks
Familiar foes now stand between Ireland and a place in the Euro 2020 finals
Ireland manager Mick McCarthy with his assistant Robbie Keane after the game. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
All week we were being told that our boys had never, in our entire international history, qualified for a major tournament with a game to spare.
Like we needed reminding. For our entire international history we’ve been lighting candles and asking our grannies to say multiple Novenas ahead of our final group/play-off fixtures in the hope of illuminating our boys’ path to qualification. So, this is not unfamiliar territory. Here we go again.
The elements, though, had given us no little hope that we could see off the Swiss, the deluge in Geneva threatening/promising to transform the pitch in to a quagmire.
Those who witnessed our performance in Tbilisi on Saturday would have known that this would not have impacted our silky tiki-taka passing, largely because we don’t do silky tiki-taka passing. Indeed, in Tbilisi, we shied away from any passing at all.
So, Tony O’Donoghue asked Mick McCarthy if the pitch might be a “leveller”. If it was Martin O’Neill, Tony would have been subjected to an eight-minute discourse on how Glenn Whelan and Jeff Hendrick were Jairzinho and Rivellino in green, so a dodgy surface would hurt them as much as the Swiss passing machines. Mick being Mick, though, he said he hoped so.
Team news and the RTÉ panel, no more than the nation, was exceedingly chuffed to see Aaron Connolly given a start, not least Didi Hamann who reminded us that the young fella had done “more in 12 minutes in Tbilisi than the rest of the team did in 78”.
Richie Sadlier, meanwhile, sounded like a man who’d have been happy enough with even Billy Connolly up front in light of the fact that “we have five strikers in this squad … and there isn’t a competitive goal between them”.
Liam Brady? He just purred, Connolly got the blood pumping through his veins all over again.
But still, his optimism levels were low. Richie reckoned if the two teams played like they did on Saturday, Switzerland would win without breaking sweat. “I’m inclined to agree,” said Liam, a draw the best his lighted candles could hope for.
Somehow, Didi was hopeful – “I’ve got a funny feeling Ireland are going to book their Euro 2020 place tonight” – despite having been on the RTÉ panel for the game against Georgia and being tasked with analysing Ireland’s inability to pass to players in similarly shaded shirts. Liam and Richie’s faces said “WTF?”
Up and running. Not quite tiki-taka football, but we could blame the pitch, Darren Randolph, who hadn’t stood in a goalmouth so mucky since his days with Ardmore Rovers back in Bray, going down in his yellow kit to make a fine save and coming up brown.
14:56 – George: “A quarter of an hour gone, successful so far?”
14:59 – Ronnie: “We’ve done alright, actually!”
15:17 – Switzerland score.
15:18 – George and Ronnie: [audible sighs]
“Celebrations on ice,” said Darragh Maloney come half-time, like he’d trusted that that pitch would indeed be a leveller, but Liam had no words. Except for “terrible, terrible, terrible”.
And then we saw the efforts of the most over-worked person in Montrose, whoever is tasked with compiling clips of Irish players passing the ball to the opposition or Row Z, and Liam just shook his head.
“Getting on the ball hasn’t been the problem,” said Richie, “our problem is what we do when we have it.” Liam nodded in a defeated kind of way, but still hoped that our “commitment and spirit” would see us through.
Didi’s face had its doubts, by then the fella possibly reckoning that whatever RTÉ pay him to punditise Irish internationals isn’t remotely enough.
The second half wasn’t a whole lot more uplifting, apart from Randolph’s penalty save, but by then we were down to 10 men, Séamus Coleman dismissed, so that left one less Irish man on the pitch to pass to Switzerland.
Come full-time, Liam could hardly find the will to speak.
“Glenn Whelan was our best player,” he said, and he kind of left that hanging, like there was nothing left to say.
So, all that stands between us and Euro 2020 now is Christian Eriksen and Denmark, and it’s not like they’ve ever left our qualifying hopes in smithereens before.
Light candles, folks.