TV View: All aboard Vera Pauw’s Ireland rollercoaster once again

Expectations heightened by victory over Finland but Thursday was a disappointment

The definition of a rollercoaster: “Steep inclines and descents followed by sharp curves and sudden changes of speed and direction for a thrill ride.”

In other words, this Irish football team.

We expect rollercoastery kind of trips with our national teams, whatever the sporting code, that’s just the way of things for us lot, but this football bunch have jammed a heap of descents, followed by a liberal sprinkling of sharp curves and thrill rides, in to an exceedingly short space of time.

Back in June, after a defeat by Iceland in Reykjavík left Ireland on a seven-game losing streak, Vera Pauw had some persuading and chin-lifting to do. All those games, she reminded us doubters, were against higher-ranked teams, so time to take a chill pill and savour the, well, learnings.

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And then after that friendly win over Australia, the more than decent display against Sweden, and the mega-tastic win away to Finland, she had some expectation-dampening to do.

“If you put pants on that are too big a size, they will go down to your ankles,” she said this week.

Blank faces.

“If we act bigger than we are, then we’ll have a problem coping with that.”

Ah.

Mind you, the Dutch sayings she often cites can get lost in translation, like her one about the need to be tough on players: “A soft doctor makes stinking wounds.”

Despite all her expectation-dampening-efforts, though, anything but a win over Slovakia would have left the post-match wounds less than aromatic, the very sizeable crowd packed in to the stadium in Tallaght anticipating that the gloom-to-boom period would persist.

Peter Collins, who hasn't had a day off since the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, was on hand to welcome us to the World Cup qualifier, with Megan Campbell and Stephanie Roche by his side.

“A brisk night in Tallaght,” he said, which was code for Baltic, Stephanie snug in her woolly hat, but the hat-less Megan looking on the verge of hypothermia.

Tony O’Donogue brought us the team news, no changes from the Finland game, Helsinki being the first time Pauw had named the same starting XI in her 14 games in charge. A settled ambush of Tigers, then, or whatever the heck the collective noun is.

This, incidentally, would be Niamh Fahey’s 98th cap, leaving those who recall her winning a senior All Ireland football title with Galway 17 years ago, when she was half the age she is now, feeling grimly rusty.

No matter. Slovakia team news? Just one non-ova in the line-up, the number 21 Surnovska. Other than that, hands up, beyond ignorant.

George Hamilton and Lisa Fallon in the commentary box. Frozen. "A chilly evening," said George, "but we're expecting a performance to warm the heart." "And the toes," Lisa mumbled hopefully, dreaming of being defrosted at some stage in the proceedings.

But apart from the odd moment of encouragement here and there, intermingled with an occasional robust challenge from the visitors, George and Lisa’s hearts and toes were still frigid by the half-time break, the game being entirely scoreless.

“It took us about 36 minutes to start playing football," said Megan, trying not to panic, but not completely succeeding.

Peter was anxious too, to the point where he told us “we have to break a take”.

Second half. Barely under way. What’s the word? We’ll go with calamity. Less than two minutes in and Slovakia took the lead through the only non-ova in the line-up, Martina Surnovska.

Cataclysmic

The high-pitched wails from the crowd were both sad and lovely, sad because the moment was cataclysmic, lovely because the stadium was evidently stuffed with small girl people.

The pitch rose a little higher when Katie McCabe did what Katie McCabe oft tends to do, ie use her left foot to do exceedingly good things. Connolly …. Payne …. O’Sullivan …. McCabe ….. George and Lisa’s hearts and toes were toasty.

Thereafter, lots of huffin’ and puffin’, but there ended the scoring, no end to this rollercoastery trip.

“The positive is that they came from behind to make sure they weren’t beaten,” said George, not sounding remotely positive at all. “It could have been worse,” said Peter, that not helping either.

“I think 1-1 is a fair result,” said Stephanie, “we didn’t deserve to win it, we didn’t deserve to lose it.” True.

Vera, meanwhile, was spittin’. The Slovakia goal? “Individuals are going forward and think they can run out of the organisation, this is what you get … we have to learn that you cannot just do your own thing.”

The steep descents followed by the thrill rides followed by a plateau of the most excruciatingly frustrating kind, our pants have well and truly dropped to our ankles.

Strewth, Australia/New Zealand feels like a very sharp curve away.