The cat is in the sack and drinking the cream


TV VIEW:REMEMBER THAT 5,000m race last century when Steve Ovett began celebrating down the home straight and John Treacy snuck up and caught him on the line? “I think he said ‘oh ****’,” Treacy recalled later.

You can, of course, be overly fearful about these things, about Ireland becoming the Steve Ovett of international football and 50,000 Irish supporters left with unneeded flights to Warsaw. But still, as Giovanni Trapattoni warned the nation, “the cat is in the sack, but the sack is not closed . . . and it’s a wild cat.”

So, would the wild cat be let out of the bag, so to speak?

“We’re not being previous, are we?” Tony O’Donoghue asked Ronnie Whelan on the Six O’Clock News, fretting that all this talk about qualification being signed, sealed and delivered was taking fate-tempting to previously uncharted territories.

“No, not at all,” Ronnie reassured him. “These lads are famous now in Ireland for qualifying – or, nearly qualifying – but if they don’t qualify they’ll be more famous if they lose 5-0 tonight.”

“Heaven forbid,” Tony gasped, but there was no such negativity among the fans outside the stadium, one of them telling RTÉ that qualification would “definitely get us out of recession”.

Maybe not quite, but it wouldn’t do us any harm at all. “One economist said it would make us €100 million,” Bill O’Herlihy told his panel, not one of John Giles, Liam Brady or Eamon Dunphy having the heart to reply: “God be with the days when €100 million was a lot of money, Bill.”

But the mood was good, Liam relieved that there’d be “no tension tonight”, Bill revealing that the panel are normally quite “sweaty”. “But I don’t expect us to be doing keepie-uppies or flicks,” said Eamon, referring to the team, not the panel.

A quick word with Trapattoni who, you might have noted, pronounced ‘won’ “wun”. He’s becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves, that fella. He half promised a song if Estonia didn’t do a John Treacy, and honestly, what you wouldn’t pay to hear him duet with his translator Manuela Spinelli on, say, The Fields of Athenry.

Out in the stadium there was a legend in every shot, Ronnie, Ray Houghton, Mick McCarthy, Packie Bonner and Paul McGrath, all we needed was Roy, Jack and Charlie O’Leary to complete the set. And out came President Michael D, not a wet week in the job and already having to congratulate the team on (possibly) qualifying for a major tournament. Mary McAleese only experienced that pleasure once in 14 years. Just the one dampener on the occasion, the state of Glenn Whelan’s moustache. “Jeez, I hope that’s for charity,” went up the cry. It is, so all’s forgiven.

Anthems. Damien Duff? Up for it. Game on. Stephen Ward. Goal. Lovely. “I think they can get on the plane now,” said Ronnie.

Come half-time the panel didn’t want to be party poopers, but they weren’t entirely riveted. “We have the Mexican wave, Bill,” Gilesie pointed out, which was him intimating that the game was a snooze-fest. He didn’t say it, though, it wasn’t the night for carping.

“We’re not Barcelona, we’re never going to be, Bill,” Liam pointed out, “we haven’t got Messi or Iniesta or Xavi playing for us.” (“We sure haven’t,” Gilesie mumbled, but he left it there).

Second half. Time ticking on. “Think how famous these players would become if they lost six goals in the last half hour,” said Ronnie. And then Estonia scored. Darragh Moloney didn’t give him a slap, but he should have.

No worries though, home and hosed. The cat was in the sack.

“After 24 years, we’re back,” said Ronnie, sounding for all the world like the cat who got the cream.

Sweet. Hats off. Good times.