TV View: Champagne football finally flows for Ireland and Kenny

Brady and Sadlier refuse to share their toys but all ends amicably after Luxembourg win

Stephen Kenny congratulates Josh Cullen after Ireland’s win over Luxembourg. Photograph: John Walton/PA

Stephen Kenny congratulates Josh Cullen after Ireland’s win over Luxembourg. Photograph: John Walton/PA

 

One of the most delicate of parenting tasks is hosting a play date for two little chums who, for whatever reason, don’t want to share their toys. This was the job handed to Peter Collins on Sunday night as the nation settled down on a drizzly Sunday evening to study the body language and mood music between Liam Brady and Richie Sadlier. The RTÉ duo simply does not play well together. This is undoubtedly why they find themselves sitting together in the studio so often. It’s great value.

“One defeat in nine or even unbeaten in five sounds so much better than without a win in 16, which was the case in the early stages of Stephen Kenny’s tenure” began Peter Collins with pronounced gaiety. This is an example of the kind of sophistry that Brady has been railing against. It doesn’t matter how the record ‘sounds’ to a hardened football man like Chippy. What matters is where those results leave the team.

Brady is, perhaps understandably, a little bit perplexed at how three wins in 19 games has made Kenny a national darling. Even Eamon Dunphy, his former sparring partner in Montrose, popped up on the Late Late Show on Friday night praising the job Kenny has done as “remarkable.” So even the Dunph had drunk the Kool-Aid! Maybe in years to come, Chippy will be proven right, like the lone voice in the midst of the Celtic Tiger, screaming that the nation had lost the run of itself even as clinking champers glasses drowned out his voice.

Shane Duffy opens the scoring for Ireland against Luxembourg. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Shane Duffy opens the scoring for Ireland against Luxembourg. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

But Sadlier was equally vexed and equally true to his belief- that Kenny has made a fine job of blending wizened veterans and lads who were writing to Santa Claus just a few years ago into a promising team. It was a bit like the old meetings of US and American presidents who would stare at one another in mutual bafflement- except what is at stake here is not a global struggle but the details of a contract for the football manager of a small country on the edge of Europe.

Meanwhile, Stephen Kenny popped up in his pre-match interview, twinkling of eye, optimistic of note and telling us yet again that if Ronaldo hadn’t scored those goals in the Algarve, we’d be unbeaten for nine games in a row. At this point, Chippy Brady would have been entirely within his rights to start screaming that the problem was, Ronaldo DID score and Ireland DID lose the game.

Contract negotiation

“There are quite a number of points on which you guys agree on,” Collins said soothingly. But the play mates weren’t having it and it was with relief that Collins moved on to the contract negotiation - otherwise known as the match.

After half an hour, it was hard to resist the temptation to flick over to watch Portugal v Serbia play in the climactic match of the group. It was 1-1 over there and gripping after half an hour. Ireland and Luxembourg, meantime, were locked in a grim existential struggle.

At the back of our minds was the faint, nagging thought that Chippy Brady could even now tog out, in the straits of middle age, and expose Luxembourg’s deficiencies with a hip-swerve and a killer ball.

At half-time he offered measured advice- “Maybe calm down a bit and just take our time a bit more with the finish” and a burst of enthusiasm for Gavin Bazunu - “What a superstar this kid is going to be.”

The goals refused to come - although Luxembourg’s Sinani manufactured one only to see it disallowed. The hope that Ireland would fire three, four, five and establish a moral and technical superiority began to fade. But Schon, the would-be Luxembourg shot-stopper was not impressing Ronnie Whelan. “The goalkeeper doesn’t know what’s going on,” he advised.

Shortly afterwards, Shane Duffy headed a close-range goal from that old staple, the Irish set-piece, after Schon obligingly flapped at the ball. VAR checked the goal - possibly because they couldn’t believe either side had managed one.

But then Ogbene made it two after a 14-pass Irish build-up which contained the brightest aspects of the Kenny era. Suddenly, Ireland looked irresistible and the goals, these gorgeous, imaginative goals, were flowing. “Champagne football,” declared Darragh Maloney. A loaded phrase round these parts. But: yes. Back in the studio, an uneasy truce had broken out. So: a contract now or in several months time?

“Stephen Kenny will definitely get the job now,” laughed Liam Brady. “I’m not going to change my opinion. But he’ll get the job now and I wish him well.”

The nation holds its breath.

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