TV View: It’s. Just. Not. Fair – Ronnie Whelan and Ali Daei rail against cruelty of it all

RTÉ’s coverage started with positive news, sadly for Shane Long it was him

Ireland’s Séamus Coleman, Jamie McGrath, Andrew Omobamidele and Gavin Bazunu dejected after the concession of a goal in the World Cup qualifier against Portugal. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Ireland’s Séamus Coleman, Jamie McGrath, Andrew Omobamidele and Gavin Bazunu dejected after the concession of a goal in the World Cup qualifier against Portugal. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

The evening was going perfectly fine until we were told Portugal’s starting line-up, at which point you’d be frantically trying to remember where you put the rosary beads your Granny gave you for your first communion.

By half-time, though, we had a scoreline that Darragh Maloney suggested would have had people looking at us “funny” if we’d forecast it.

By full-time we were looking at the heavens a bit funny ourselves, in a “bad cess to ya, you cruel buggers” sort of way.

Ronnie Whelan spoke for the nation. “It’s. Just. Not. Fair.”

But hands up those of you who reckoned our lads would be leading in the 89th minute? Exactly, none of ye.

Especially when RTÉ’s coverage kicked off with “breaking news” from Tony O’Donoghue over in Faro. Knowing Stephen “if I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have none at all” Kenny’s fortunes so far as manager, when anything that could go wrong did, you sensed the news wouldn’t be positive. It actually was, as it proved, in that positive was the result of Shane Long’s Covid test.

If the Republic of Ireland football squad was a nation it would surely top the global most-Covid-impacted-per-head-of-population ranking list.

Carnage

As if that wasn’t enough of a downer, Didi Hamann then went and told us that Portugal have a fella who scored 28 goals in the Bundesliga last season, but that he’d only made the bench for this game.

Liam Brady, alongside him, slunk a little lower in his chair, sensing that we were about to witness carnage.

Didi, as a guest of our nation, tried to be nice about our starting XI, pointing out that Jamie McGrath had scored 17 goals in 46 appearances for St Mirren. He could have left it there but chose to remind us that St Mirren play in Scotland. He then cleared his throat a little. Rude.

Liamo, meanwhile, took one look at our team and decided that it was “a selection for the future”, certainly not for September 1st, 2021, filleting the bulk of the lads for their shortcomings. But he conceded that he hadn’t been on RTÉ duty for the bulk of our games under Kenny because of Covid, stopping just short of declaring: “Thank Jaysus”.

Positivity

Peter Collins tried his hardest to extract some positivity from his panel. “Can you spot any weaknesses in that Portuguese side, areas that the Republic of Ireland may be able to exploit?”

“Em, well, on paper, no,” said Didi, noting that “there’s a reason why these players don’t play” when their lack of first-team football was mentioned, the suggestion being that they’re not very good. But despite that he still didn’t rule out the possibility of them troubling Portugal and maybe even producing a surprise result. Liamo sank further into his seat, him seeing no possibility of a happy outcome at all.

Teams out, 7,999 Portuguese waving their Mayo flags alongside one from Ballybrack. There’s always one.

“They just ooze class,” said Ronnie of the Portuguese line-up, his confidence levels roughly on the floor, not rising much when that penalty was conceded.

While the ref ran off to check the replays of the incident on his telly, Ronnie told us, very excitedly, that “Ronaldo just threw a punch!”

No?! No. He slapped Dara O’Shea’s arm after O’Shea kicked the ball off the penalty spot, our fella falling to the ground holding his head. Mortifying, like. Still, though, you know what they say: we’ve seen lads sent off for less. But as Liamo suggested at half time, maybe Ronaldo, Manchester United’s newly-signed Jesse Lingard-understudy, was too big to fail/be red-carded.

“Here’s the decision from the Slovenian referee;, this is like the voting in the Eurovision,” said Darragh as the ref sprinted towards the box and pointed to the spot again. A penalty it was. Up stepped Ronaldo and when Gavin Bazunu saved, that cheer you heard was probably from Ali Daei over in Iran, his 109 international goal record unbroken.

Bolt upright

If that moment was a lovely one, it was put in the ha’penny place when John Egan re-enacted that Keano-Turin-1999 goal. A thing of beauty. You’d have been sore from pinching yerself at this point. When we went back to the studio at half-time, Liamo was sitting bolt upright, his voice having risen several notches.

Second half. It felt like it lasted 90 minutes. Almost home and hosed, but then the Ronaldo person did his thing. Twice. “He’s broken Irish hearts in Faro,” said Darragh, while Ronnie (and Ali Daei) railed against the cruelty of the game of association football. “But Ireland cannot have their heads down after this. They were absolutely magnificent.”

They were too. Next time we’ll have the rosary beads on hand, it’s about time the gods were on their side.

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