A to Z: of our journey to Euro 2012
With Ireland’s 10-year wait for a major football tournament appearance set to end next summer, Daniel McDonnell looks back at how we made it to Poland and the Ukraine
Published 24/12/2011 | 05:00
ADJECTIVES: Any amount of these could be used to describe Richard Dunne's display in Moscow, which rescued Ireland from defeat and kept the dream alive. Heroic, inspiring, fearless, courageous, towering. Take your pick. The defining performance of his Irish career.
BONIEK: The legendary Polish midfielder and student of Trapattoni was the man who conducted the play-off draw that pitted Ireland with Estonia. Zbigniew was warmly greeted by Trap when he arrived in Kiev for the finals itself and even dropped into the Irish press area to receive thanks.
CONTRACT: From the summer onwards, the issue of Trapattoni's contract was a recurring topic, with the Italian pretty clear about his desire to stay on. The FAI refused to budge, however, making qualification for the finals crucial on the manager staying or going.
DILEMMA: Come May, the boss will have to make the kind of hard decision that accompanies the job. He will have to cut down his regular, enlarged squad of 28-30 players for the UEFA maximum of 23 for the finals tournament. There will be tears for some of the boys who have turned up throughout the campaign with the minimum of fuss.
EXCUSES: Mick McCarthy insinuated that Trap was using Kevin Doyle's summer medial ligament issue as an excuse for preferring Shane Long ahead of the Slovakia showdown in Dublin. Long was duly ruled out of the match, but the verbals continued between Irish managers past and present.
FREE: The drinks are free for away fans when John Delaney is in the house and so is the train carrying them there if the FAI have, inadvertently, directed you to the wrong Slovakian city.
GREEN: Not the colour, but the Derby midfielder, Paul, who was a surprise inclusion for the first four games of the campaign before injury halted his progress and a further long-term problem followed. A forgotten man at the end of the campaign, although he still harbours hopes of making the plane.
HALF-CENTURY: With a deflected strike against Macedonia, the prolific Keane moved onto the 50-goal mark, surpassing the record for international goals scored by any player from Britain or Ireland which had been held by Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton. He added another in that match, and his Estonian contributions have moved the Tallaght man further up the all-time worldwide list.
INIESTA: Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets, Silva, Villa, Fabregas, Mata, Llorente, Alonso, Ramos, Casillas, Puyol, Pique, Pirlo, Rossi, De Rossi, Balotelli, Chiellini, Modric, Rakitic, Srna, Olic. That's just a selection of names that Trapattoni may have to jostle with next summer.
JETLAG: An element that Irish skipper Robbie Keane had to consider for the business end of qualification in the wake of his August move to LA Galaxy. He was sluggish in September, but came through when it mattered to deliver a brace in Tallinn after a hectic schedule.
KILBANE: The affable left-back's remarkable run of consecutive competitive appearances ended with the scoreless draw with Slovakia in September, and the emergence of Stephen Ward looks to have brought an end to his 14 years of loyal and dignified service.
LANSDOWNE: The roar was back for the concluding games with Armenia and Estonia, yet Ireland have still to deliver a really commanding and convincing display on home soil. The key factor in qualifying was the consistency of performances on the road.
MARKER: It was a good thing that Ireland had one handy on the bench in Moscow, as the referee wouldn't allow Dunne back on the pitch without a number on his replacement shirt after the first one was destroyed by blood in his iron-man display. Goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly drew on a number five, but it turned out that the ref had the rules wrong all along.
NORTHERN IRELAND: Sick of losing players to the FAI, the Belfast authorities have stepped up their attempt to stop the talent drain. Although with some quarters north of the border failing to grasp why the playing of God Save the Queen before games might be a slight turn-off for youngsters from a nationalist background, then you have to wonder how far they will really get.
OBSESSION: Talk of a friendly visit from England is reaching this level. It's just as well this game won't take place before Euro 2012 as it promised to be a huge anti-climax. Fabio Capello's men are nothing like the three teams Ireland will face in Poland. There are more important things than a rivalry with a side who really don't care about us very much.
PENNANT: Stoke midfielder Jermaine Pennant was the most high-profile name to suggest he could qualify for Ireland after FIFA relaxed eligibility laws, although he doesn't appear to have proved how he can switch and his club colleagues were sceptical. Jamie O'Hara can switch, yet the Wolves midfielder has been honest enough to admit that his heart is set on England.
QUOTE: In the context of 'N', Celtic winger Niall McGinn provided one of the quotes of the year after being part of the Northern Ireland side that was drubbed 5-0 in Dublin. "I'm a Republic of Ireland fan and it's obviously good to play against them. I think the only good thing to come out of tonight is that I got Robbie Keane's jersey," he said. An inevitable backlash followed.
REFEREE: A certain Martin Hansson was an infamous figure in Ireland two years ago in the wake of Paris. However, the officials were kinder to Trapattoni in this campaign, specifically the Armenian game in Dublin where Spanish ref Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez controversially dismissed visiting 'keeper Roman Berezovsky at a crucial juncture.
SHAMROCK: That's the name which most English commentators bestowed upon Shamrock Rovers as they also lifted the mood of soccer fans during their historic odyssey in the Europa League. While they failed to earn a point in the group stages up against Rubin Kazan, Tottenham Hotspur, and PAOK Salonika, the fact the Hoops became the first Irish club to get there was a superb achievement.
TEXTING: Trapattoni spent a lot of time talking about text messaging in May, when no-shows overshadowed the gathering for the Carling Nations Cup. James McCarthy was criticised for not replying to a message from the FAI's Mary O'Brien, while Marc Wilson appeared to have turned his phone off.
URUGUAY: The Copa America winners cut Ireland open in a March friendly in Dublin, with the understrength home defence breached three times and lucky not to concede more. But it set the team off on an impressive run of eight successive clean sheets. Lessons were obviously learned.
VISITORS: Trap is always suspicious of newcomers to his press conferences and can expect more in the circus around the finals. Well- known 'gas ticket' Hector was present in Tallinn for a question related to the manager's famous 'cat in the sack' reference and another fresh voice followed up with a 'Do you like cats?' query that must have sounded funnier in his head. Nobody laughed.
WHO? A lot of people were asking that question when West Brom squad player Simon Cox was drafted into the Irish side in the summer and selected ahead of Shane Long for the qualifier in Macedonia, yet he justified his inclusion both then and in the crunch group match with Armenia.
X-RATED: The horrendous challenge by Alan Hutton on Shane Long that ruled the West Brom man out of the play-offs and left Giovanni Trapattoni with a striking dilemma. Thankfully, Jonathan Walters emerged to deliver in Tallinn.
YEREVAN: The capital of Armenia. Keith Fahey's winner there in the opening group game was celebrated at the time, but really grew in significance as the group developed. Nobody else took three points from there.
ZILINA: The Slovakian city where Ireland drew 1-1 in October, and where Armenia secured a famous victory to leave Trap's men in control of their play-off destiny. Crucially, it's also ideally named for A-Z style features.