TV View: Positive positives – in football terms at least – for Kenny’s depleted crew
Manager must be wondering what he has done to vex the gods after a most trying week
Republic of Ireland midfielder Jayson Molumby runs with the ball during the Uefa Nations League match against Wales at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
It was reaching a point on Sunday morning, when all that news was filtering through, that you’d have started to reckon that if you turned up at the Aviva Stadium with a pair of boots you’d have made it in to the Irish team for the game against Wales.
James McCarthy joining David McGoldrick, Séamus Coleman and Troy Parrott on the injury list, Callum Robinson, Alan Browne, John Egan and Callum O’Dowda joining Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah on the close contacts list, and another player testing positive for Covid, just in case Stephen Kenny hadn’t been tested enough.
That’s 11 players in all, so enough for an entire team, although no goalkeeper. Mind you, we didn’t really need one against Wales, as it proved.
By now Kenny must have been wondering if he had done something in a previous life to earn all this misfortune, (Drogheda United fans: ‘Yeah, bringing all that silverware to Dundalk’), as if that penalty shoot-out against Slovakia wasn’t more than plenty.
“Your plans have been decimated,” Sky’s Guy Havord said to him before kick-off, Kenny well entitled to say ‘yes, yes they have’, but instead he opted for a considerably more upbeat response to the carnage that had befallen his team-selection-plans, pointing to the opportunities it presented to the likes of Kevin Long and Jayson Molumby - or “Mul-umbai”, as Phil Babb insisted on calling him back in the studio, making him sound quite like a large Indian city. (Matt Dough-er-tee and Conor Who-ra-han: ‘Welcome to our world.’)
Anthems time and a reminder of the one of the more catastrophic effects of this pandemic: we can hear footballers sing.
And Mick McCarthy was singing off the very same hymn sheet that he brought to Ireland’s game against Bulgaria last month when he was on Sky co-commentating duty, the one that reads: ‘PUMP IN CROSSES!’
Rob Hawthorne had noted Ireland’s “more patient approach” and their willingness to avoid lumping the ball in to the skies at every given opportunity, suggesting that this was a somewhat “radical” move on the part of Kenny.
This raised Mick’s hackles a bit, and he proceeded to list all the goals (around 96.3 per cent of the most recent ones) that our lads have scored from crosses, mainly during his more recent reign.
“I’m not so sure it’s a new radical approach! It’s passing the ball to each other and trying to get it up the field! I still say the best approach to it for us is getting crosses in to the box, that’s how we score!”
It was at this point that Welsh old boy Danny Gabbidon made a wholly unhelpful interjection: “Ireland put 22 crosses in against Slovakia and didn’t get a goal”.
Mick fell silent. Until: ‘PUMP IN CROSSES!’
Anyway, Kevin Long had to leave the field after 25 minutes after Kieffer Moore, who sounds like a trawler, left him with an eye so swollen it looked like he’d just done 12 rounds with Tyson Fury. By now, Kenny would have been glaring at the Gods and asking: “Lads, are ye having a laugh?”
Wales, bedecked in colours that made them look like they’d played New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup earlier in the morning, gave up plenty of chances, but our boys kept insisting on not taking them, so it was 0-0 at half-time.
It was a similar story in the second half, during which Jack Byrne discovered that not even a pandemic could get him on the field and James McClean got himself sent off, which means if you bring your boots to Helsinki on Wednesday, you’ll definitely get a game.
“It’s not been a great week for us, everything’s going wrong,” said Mick. “Whether it’s Covid, positive tests, negative tests, results, penalty shoot-outs, and now we’ve a red card as well.”
Apart from that . . .
“Is it a moral point,” Havord asked Shane Duffy at full-time, when it was neither a moral nor an immoral point, it was just a point. A moral victory, though? Well, considering half of Kenny’s squad were sitting at home watching on telly, too right.
And back in the studio, the panel, impressed by the Irish performance, if not the lack of net-busting, reckoned Kenny was entitled to feel content.
“I see loads of positives for Ireland,” said former Welsh international Dave Edwards. An unfortunate choice of words, perhaps, in the circumstances. But in footballing terms at least, there were indeed positive positives, and not false ones.