Not sure about your neighbourhood, but there was a noticeable absence of inflatable bananas ‘round this way in the build-up to the opening game of our World Cup qualifying campaign, absolutely nobody tingling ahead of the beginning of our lads’ efforts to make it to Qatar 2022.
Indeed, the height of our general ambition seemed to be to just score a goal, Darragh Maloney coldly reminding us that it had been 660 minutes since we last troubled a net. So long ago was it, in fact, we thought back then that we’d all be vaccinated by now and battling our way through the throngs to get an order in at the bar, before heading off to visit our grannies, jog 5.1km before ambling on to Electric Picnic.
On the day that it was announced that Leaving Certificate students will be allowed skip the usual mandatory question on William Shakespeare come June, football devotees couldn’t but recall that line from Measure for Measure: “The miserable have no other medicine but only hope.” The play was written in 1603, so it wasn’t actually a preview of our 2022 qualifying campaign, but still, uncanny.
Miserable? Yes. But hopeful? Ish.
“I’m always a glass-half-full kinda fella,” Kevin Doyle told Darragh, before almost conceding that the best medicine Ireland could hope for was to beat Azerbaijan and Luxembourg to third-from-bottom in the group.
He and Richie Sadlier did, though acknowledge Stephen Kenny's endless misfortunes since taking on the job, even if he was only missing Darren Randolph, Caoimhín Kelleher, John Egan, James McCarthy, Jack Byrne, Harry Arter, Adam Idah, Conor Hourihane, Callum O'Dowda and Kevin Long for this particular game. Compared to the number of his absentees last year, that came close enough to a clean bill of health.
Still, the murmurings suggested Kenny would be in trouble if this game was lost, in a ‘beware the ides of March’ sort of way, which would be akin to questioning Neven Maguire’s culinary skills on him being asked to make an omelette without eggs.
Team news. Changes aplenty, the top scorer in the Irish team defender Ciaran Clark with two goals in 10 years. Seamus Coleman, though, insisted the boys would give it a lash during his video chat with Tony O'Donoghue who, we're guessing, was sitting in a spot overlooking his garden. Not to be rude, but Tony's fence is in desperate need of a lick of paint.
Kevin: “Score draw.”
Richie: “I’d snap your hand off at a score draw.”
The Nation: “Too right.”
Game time. Lest we doubted him, George Hamilton still knows more about refs than they know about themselves, telling us that Davide Massare comes from a city that was founded by Benito Mussolini. Stephen Kelly doesn't often fall silent, but he did this time, not really knowing how to respond to that nugget of info.
Some time later, the lead up to the 17th minute and 48th second in the year of our Lord 2021 - George:
"Alan Browne. Doherty .... again the ball from Doherty not as good as it might have been .... but it's kept alive by Browne and now it's Stevens ..... Robinson .... Callum Robinson.... clever little ball in .... up goes the head .... AND IT'S ALAN BROWNE WHO'S GOT THE GOAL!"
For any one watching, it was an ‘I was there (on the couch)’ moment, up there with ‘the nation holds its breath’. We scored. No, really, we did.
Granted, Serbia equalised before half-time, but no matter.
“A goal, thank God,” said Kevin, applauding Browne’s divine intervention, Darragh pointing out that “this was our first goal in 678 minutes of international football”. “I think we’re going to show about eight replays,” said Richie, who was wrong, it being more like 12.
Second-half. What was that Rod Stewart tune? ‘I don’t wanna ..... [lusty glance at audience] .... talk about it.’ Not even the introduction of Jeff Hendrick - George: “Cometh the hour, cometh the man,” like Jeff was the love-child of Pele and Cruyff - easing the pain.
What did help, though, was that moment James Collins scored what they call in the trade a consolation goal, it having felt like 1603, when Willie penned Measure for Measure, since we last pierced the goal-line twice - so we'd have been forgiven for inflating our bananas.
But, no wins in nine now, Qatar seeming as distant as the trip between, say, Dingle and Doha (7,637.7km - thanks Google Maps). But Stephen Kenny doesn’t give up easily, he’ll carry on trying to make omelettes without eggs.