Boos fill the air as misfiring Boys in Green add to gloom
THIS wasn't in the script.
A bleak 0-0 draw and the boos ringing around the not-so-full Aviva Stadium.
As the players staggered off the pitch in the shadow of an underwhelmed crowd, all eyes turned with dread to Russia.
So much now rests on Tuesday's game -- the future of Ireland's European conquest, even the future of our manager whose contract extension will hang in the balance of a threatening Moscow air.
"Our weapons are ready," Giovanni Trapattoni had dramatically announced before last night's battle with Slovakia. "The guns are out."
But they all misfired, despite some fleeting, teasing moments when we almost did it.
Outside the ground afterwards, that familiar feeling of anti-climax hung in the air, the sound of sharpening knives and mutterings of retribution. Can Ireland survive, can Trap?
"I think the campaign is over now to be honest," said Ross Farrington (26) from Wicklow, with a blunt, matter of fact finality.
"It's very frustrating, I don't think that we played the way we could have, to our potential."
Others agreed. "I mean we have a tradition of doing badly and then turning it around, but I am a bit worried about Russia," said Aidan McSweeney (26) from Dublin.
Echoing his friend, fellow season-ticket holder David Clongriffin added: "We are an average side and I don't think that we have enough to go out to Russia and win."
It was a damning verdict for the team, but the jury hasn't come back on the manager just yet. Irish fans don't tend to rush to the same cut-throat, no mercy judgements which routinely befall English managers.
Perhaps it's too soon to condemn a man who still seems to command the respect of fans.
"I think we have to wait," mused 35-year-old Shane O'Farrell from Dublin. "But he is getting a lot of money and the team has not significantly performed over the last while, so maybe it's time for a change."
Ask around and you will find no consistency. "I would still be happy if he got an extension. I would say the majority of fans are behind him," said another.
It's hard to remain upbeat. Positively just isn't our thing these days.
Even the enthusiastic stadium announcer was putting a little too much effort into it as the green army staggered into a night of sorrow-drowning.
"We would like to wish the boys in green all the best in Russia," he chirped over the loudspeaker.
Not many people were listening last night. Maybe on Tuesday things will change.
Full match report: see Sport