England were due to play New Zealand and Ireland were due to play Bosnia and Herzegovina but both were left with no one to play after New Zealand concluded that it wasn't safe to travel to London and the Bosnians decided they'd prefer to play Iran, like you do. So, England and Ireland said to each other, 'd'you want a game?', it being safe-ish because they already kind of share a bubble, albeit one divided by the Irish Sea, Brexit and reaction to that Wild Mountain Thyme trailer. The November page of the 2020 International Fixtures calendar is now caked in Tipp-Ex.
That, then, is how we all ended up watching our lads playing in an empty Wembley on the twelfth night of November when we'd been limbering up for a glamorous Euro 2020/21 losing-play-off-semi-finalists clash with Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo. The only prize on offer at Wembley was, need it be said, pride, but up in Belfast, where the winning-play-off-semi-finalists, Norn Iron and Slovakia, were squaring up, a spot at Euro 2020/21 was up for grabs. Well for some.
But Stephen Kenny was in good form when he spoke to ITV pre-match, and why wouldn't he have been, the build-up to this game relatively smooth compared to his previous five. This time he'd only lost David McGoldrick (retired), Seamus Coleman (hamstring), Callum Robinson (Covid), Aaron Connolly (hamstring), Enda Stevens (knee), Harry Arter (calf) and James McCarthy (family reasons), while Shane Long (injured in Southampton training), Derrick Williams (thigh), Greg Cunningham (hamstring) and Jonny Hayes (groin) were unavailable for late call-ups.
And then he lost John Egan after just 14 minutes following his clash of heads with Conor Hourihane, Egan having to depart the field despite Kenny Cunningham, over on RTE, reckoning he had looked "reasonably conscious".
Any way, it had been 35 years since England last beat us, and that's roughly how many players Kenny was missing. "When you're Irish manager," said Roy Keane back on ITV, 'bitter experience' scribbled all over his face, "you need all your best players and you need a little bit of luck - Stephen Kenny has had neither yet."
Mark Pougatch showed Roy the Irish XI and asked him what he made of it, his initial 'mother of Jaysus' expression suggesting that he didn't think there'd be an open top bus parade for the team when they got home. "None of these lads is pulling up any trees at club level," he said, while bemoaning Coleman's absence. "It's not a great sign when your best player the last few years is a full-back," he noted, even though Ashley Cole was standing beside him. Adam Idah up front? "It'll be tough for him to score goals at this level," he said, "but he's from Cork, so that gives him a chance."
Gareth Southgate, meanwhile, decided to troll us by picking Jack G******h and putting a Pope in goal, the non-selection of Jordan Pickford another blow for Ireland. But over on Virgin Media, Brian Kerr saw no reason to be fearful. "It's not a great England team, there's nothing to be shivering about there," he promised us.
Anthems time and ITV’s subtitles for Amhrán na bhFiann featured the lyrics of Ireland’s Call - no, really - as if the Good Friday Agreement wasn’t jeopardised enough, and 10ish minutes into the game fake crowd noises kicked in on RTE, with Rule Britannia played on a bugle highly audible. Just when you think these times can’t get weirder.
Off we went and everything was grand for 18 minutes, during which Daryl Horgan played like he was the love-child of Pirlo and Iniesta. That might, to be honest, be a slight exaggeration, possibly influenced by Kenny C's co-commentary which would have you thinking Ireland were 5-0 up in that spell.
Then Harry Maguire's sizeable forehead netted before Lee Dixon added a second. Not technically Lee Dixon, but you'd just have had an overwhelming foreboding-ish feeling that as soon as he started wondering out loud on ITV about Jadon Sancho's "end product" that Jadon Sancho would produce an end product. Which he did. 2-0.
"It could get messy in the second half," said Roy at the break, "hang in there," he urged the lads. They did, for 11 minutes, at which point Dominic Calvert-Lewin found his inner Bryson DeChambeau, took out his driver, and powered a peno past Darren Randolph.
By now we had Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, etc on our minds - ie: STOP COUNTING.
Mercifully, the count did indeed stop there, and it's unlikely Stephen Kenny will take it to the Supreme Court. But we'll see.
“I think long term we’re in good shape,” said Kenny C, a man who could look at an empty glass and conclude it was three quarters full. “I think England would have had tougher training days,” said Roy, somewhat in contrast, “we didn’t even have a booking!” And he wore the face of a man who wanted to Tipp-Ex the occasion from his memory.