Not too many of us would have picked up on it at the time, but it was early in the game when Lisa Fallon drew Darragh Maloney’s attention to “three little birds” hanging around one of the corner flags, unmoved even when Swedish and Irish players came thundering towards them. “There must be some really nice grass seed over there,” she concluded.
In hindsight this was quite obviously a sign that there was no need to worry about a thing, that every little thing was gonna be all right, which – hands up here – was not the general feeling when the draw for this World Cup qualifying group was made a year ago.
Upon seeing that our bunch were in with Sweden, all you could do once the fixtures were set was circle April 12th, 2022, and light some candles.
The last time the Swedes dropped a qualifying point at home, after all, was 12 years ago, when Katie McCabe was 15, the Irish captain celebrating her third birthday the day after they beat Ireland 10-0 in a Euro qualifier. And that’s generally been the Swede’s habit, handing out mullerings to their visitors.
Come April 12th, 2022, though, the only thing, really, that McCabe got wrong was when she told Tony O’Donoghue come full-time that “it’s not a bad result”.
It was, we can all agree, considerably better than not bad, the high point McCabe’s first-half goal.
Darragh spoke for the nation after he noted that her strike had taken a deflection. “I wondered where it was going originally – but I actually don’t care where it was going originally.”
This was Darragh’s Barry “Where oh where were the Germans? And frankly, who cares?” Davies moment.
Hope hadn’t been enormously high back in the RTÉ studio before the game, both Karen Duggan and Stephanie Roche trying to temper expectations of a non-defeat by reminding us that Sweden are, well, Sweden, a point Lisa drove home ahead of kick-off when she told us that they are “arguably, he best in the world right now”, before going on to list their strengths, which almost took us to half-time.
And then Darragh, lest we didn’t already have the wind up us, pointed out that the Swedish squad was populated by players who do their thing with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg, Paris Saint Germain, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Juventus.
By then, you’d have been worrying about lots of things. And when the opening spell of the game required Ireland to become an entire team of Moscow Richard Dunnes, 90 minutes suddenly seemed like a lifetime-and-a-half.
But then Katie scored.
And Ireland were still leading with 10 minutes to go, you’d have been sore from the pinching, Darragh, finding his inner fate-tempting George Hamilton, doing nothing at all for our nerves by reminding us every 14 seconds how long Ireland had to hold on until registering the most monumental victory in their entire and complete history.
And then Sweden equalised.
“No, no, no, no, no,” said Darragh, but it was his own fault.
No matter, apparently Sweden didn’t score again, this not being obvious through the closing stages due to the cushion obstructing the telly screen.
A draw away to Sweden. Repeat: a draw away to Sweden.
“A mammoth, immense performance,” as Lisa put it, perhaps leaving the FAI considering issuing a new shirt with instructions for how to beat Ireland.
McCabe was player of the match, but goalie Courtney Brosnan can’t have been far off. Released by West Ham last summer, barely getting a game with Everton this season, on the verge of losing her place to Megan Walsh, and might well have done if the Brighton goalkeeper hadn’t just come back from Covid. And then she produces a performance like that. Warrior.
Three games to go, the middle one at home to Finland next September. You’d be thinking it’s time for the Aviva to open its doors to this very special team. Light some candles in the hope that it happens.