TV View: James McClean proves the messiah of Irish World Cup hopes
Jubilation once again as Martin O’Neill’s men put in another brilliant away shift
Republic of Ireland defender Shane Duffy celebrates after the game. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
RTÉ had attempted to stoke our pre-match fire by showing us clips of Alan McLoughlin in 1993, Jason McAteer in 2001, Shane Long in 2015 and Robbie Brady in 2016, trips down memory lane that left us feeling so fortified that you couldn’t but have the notion that any dragon that crossed our path would be incinerated. Up for it, like.
James McClean, 2017.
You complete beauty.
So intense was the jubilation, George Hamilton had to remind us that we hadn’t actually qualified for the World Cup, when we felt like we’d actually won the damn thing, there was two-legged work to be done yet. Party-pooper. But, yeah, okay, reasonable point.
When Darragh Maloney had brought us the night’s team news, it would be fair to say that there was a shortage of jubilation.
Eleven Welsh men, none of them Gareth Bale, which was the good bit.
But (Harry Arter, Robbie Brady and James McClean in, Shane Long, Callum O’Dowda and), Mother of Mercy, Wes Hoolahan out.
A nation took cover behind their couches.
“Well I’m disappointed Wes Hoolahan is dropped.”
That measured a mere 1.3 on the Richter Scale, when we expected in or around an 8.5.
Richie Sadlier was less restrained, measuring around a 6.7, even getting admonished for his blasphemy when he said “Chriiiiist!” after Darragh tried to argue that if Wes hadn’t played that long against Moldova we mightn’t have beaten Moldova, so our trip to Cardiff would purely have been a sight-seeing exercise.
So, if Wes was too fatigued to start against Wales, then it was worth the sacrifice. Richie, on the other hand, reckoned, in so many words, that if we couldn’t beat Moldova without Wes being on the pitch for 70-odd minutes, then we should be playing chess.
Martin O’Neill, though, agreed with Darragh. “Two games in quick succession is obviously a problem,” he said of Wes’s lasting ability, but he didn’t rule out bringing him on late if it was all going pear-shaped.
“Is Murphy up front on his own,” asked Tony O’Donoghue. “You’ll find out,” said Martin, as revealingly as he ever is with Tone.
Back with the panel and Liam was even more despondent than usual (“All I can see tonight is route one football”), while Eamon appeared to think our first choice right back was deceased (“We must remember Séamus”).
Darragh lightened the mood a little by telling us that Cardiff was heaving with Irish fans, although most of them had no tickets so they’d have to watch it all on Welsh telly.
Over to our commentary team.
George might have said ‘Welcome to Cardiff’ in Welsh, or ‘Anyone like a fruit gum?’ in Hebrew, we couldn’t tell, but from his flirtations with the oval ball he was able to alert us to the oncoming assault on the senses that would be Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. “You know it from the rugby,” he warned us.
And all you could say on hearing the crowd belt out the Welsh anthem was a highly blasphemous ‘Jaaaaaaysus’.
“George, that’s suddenly worried me,” said Jim Beglin. “If they play like they sing, we’re in trouble.”
And Jim spoke for the entire Irish nation.
Match time. Six minutes gone, but it felt like 66. “We haven’t yet seen Ireland pass the ball,” said George, and he wasn’t wrong, the game possessing all the quality of an Evo-Stik Southern League fixture.
The minutes drifted by, though, without Wales engaging in any class of net-busting.
Jim was feeling confident-er. “One Coleman broke his leg back in March, hopefully another Coleman will have his heart broken tonight,” he said. No, he did, really.
A free for Ireland a metre or five from their own goal. “An opportunity to find Duffy’s head,” said George, confirmation that we weren’t going down the tiki-taka route.
Joe Allen mullered by James McClean and David Meyler. “That’s a Cork and Derry sandwich,” said Jim, the meat in between having to depart the scene. Getting lively.
By now Jim was getting giddy, even calling Duffy ‘Muffy’.
Scoreless at half-time. “Glass half-full, glass half-empty,” said George.
The panel was happy-ish. Although Richie was finding it hard to salute the quality of football. “Woeful stuff,” he said, noting of one Irish effort-ish on goal: “That was probably a shot”.
Off we went, second half. “Forty-five minutes from destiny,” said George, and soon after Darren Randolph strengthened the case for a statue to be built in his honour somewhere soon. He’s good at this net-minding business, that lad.
And then in the 57th minute of the game, on October the 9th in the year of our Lord 2017, James Joseph McClean made us love him even more, just when we thought we’d given the lad all the love we possessed.
Hendrick cross. Arter stepover. “McClean thrusts a sword in the dragon’s heart in Cardiff!” George was beside himself.
“Vindication for Martin O’Neill,” said Eamon
“His tactics worked a treat,” said Liam.
Chriiiiist, 90 minutes is a long time in football.