Destiny of Trap’s army now in Poland and Ukraine
Published 12/11/2011 | 05:00
There are two railway lines straddling the A Le Coq Arena, a fitting metaphor for the hugely significant task awaiting Giovanni Trapattoni's men.
Would his side's qualification hopes hurtle down the tracks towards the providential land of a first major championship in a decade? Or would their hopes hit the buffers once more, with all the rancour and regret such failure entails?
The selection of Jonathan Walters offered a strong hint that Ireland would seek to impose themselves as firmly on the encounter in the typical fashion that has benchmarked the more competent away days of the Italian manager's tenure.
It was a calculated gamble in some respects; whereas the deployment of Simon Cox would not necessarily have to prove itself as a gamble from the off, Walters' impact needed to be more immediately obvious.
Another flutter of pre-match excitement centred on the scrutiny of UEFA's small print that compounded the disciplinary tightrope upon which Ireland sought to tread so delicately as they endeavoured to blend resolve and reserve.
Richard Dunne, despite already serving a suspension, still remained on the precipice of another suspension, a significant oversight on behalf of his association that, hopefully, would have been transmitted to the occasionally reckless tackler before this skirmish.
Across from where the Irish team lined up for a rousing rendition of the national anthem, a banner vividly detailed the high price of failure. "Sacked ... Can you hear it coming Trap?"
With Abbotstown employees nervously awaiting the latest redundancy news, there was, as is usually the case with this team, a sense that this was about more than a football match.
FAI chief executive John Delaney, however much he continues to ingratiate himself with the travelling Irish support, also did not need to be told of how the next five days could ultimately shape his tenure as the primus inter pares (first among equals) of Irish football.
The opening throes indicated just why Walters had earned the nod ahead of Cox, as he won two corners and then aggressively aggrandised two decent touches in the penalty area as Ragnar Klavan and Raio Piroja deferred to each other.
Despite the flurry, the affair swiftly acquired another tenor, that of an English-style game -- more championship than Premier League, of course. No matter, for these sides play to their strengths.
Ireland would have been relieved to see an Estonian clearance reach halfway with not a blue shirt in sight; they, in turn, were heartened to see Robbie Keane bustling defensively 30 yards from his own goal.
As had been stressed before by all, the key to exposing the rather soft underbelly of an Estonian side was on the flanks. Any general could see that.
The early portents from Aiden McGeady, aside from running himself into touch, were quite favourable and he memorably franked that impression with a glorious, delicate little stand-up ball to the crown of Keith Andrews, from where the ball deposited itself snugly in the bottom left corner of Sergei Pareiko's net.
The game was but 13 minutes old. There were 167 remaining. The 14th minute indicated that each may be as fretful as the next.
Estonia sought to do to Ireland what had been done unto them; deploy their wing speed in an attempt to locate the elaborate wingspan of beanpole striker Jarmo Ahjuper.
They effected the first task, briefly, with full-back Dmitri Kruglov gambolling gleefully into space predominantly vacated by Stephen Kelly and Damien Duff, while the dainty, diminutive figure of Konstanti Vassiljev sought to engage.
Andrews, to his credit, managed to shackle the danger with his persistent shadow. Estonia, betraying their nature as a shoot-on-sight operation, lobbed in a series of directionless bullets.
And then, as if to emphasise that, while Paris may still sear the conscience of so many Irish men and women, the fates that have demonstrated less swingeing justice than of yore, as Andrey Stepanov compounded an earlier indiscretion on McGeady with an attempted decapitation of Keane.
No matter that Keane's efforts had already been of the headless variety; Stepanov had to walk. The script had irrevocably changed. Now the job's completion was alluringly available to be completed before the players decamped to Dublin.
To quote Trapattoni, the cat was in the sack. All they needed to do was secure it.
The manager's histrionics on the sidelines hinted at a nervousness that transmitted itself to the pitch. We hoped for the calm solitude of half-time to engender enough confidence amongst the Irish ranks that they could kill off their prey,
Walters, seemingly shaking off a toe injury sustained in early combat, continued to quarter the ground like an eager gun dog as his team-mates sought to consolidate their advantage in the second-half.
Estonia removed their main striker whose efforts resembled the proverbial lighthouse in a field; remarkable to look at but utterly useless. The game was too fractured for either the home team to solidly counter or for Ireland to seize the glorious advantage.
Out of the morass, Walters continued to threaten with his impressive strength and mobility; so strange to think that such a short time ago he was bemoaning his inability to earn entry to Trapattoni's inner sanctum.
On last night's evidence, he could become Ireland's leading target man. His work for the second, clinching goal was eminently reflective of his toil and awareness, as he initially sought out McGeady after receiving the ball near the centre circle.
Continuing to intelligently track the play, he loitered patiently as McGeady and Keane interlinked, the former's shot allowing the captain to find his partner with a speculative lobbed cross.
It was Route 66 for Ireland, the goal coming with three-quarters of the tie completed. Their task seemed to be have reached a similar equation.
Within minutes, they had sealed their triumph and the unlikely prospect of a packed Lansdowne Road serenading their coronation as Euro 2012 qualifiers on Tuesday evening.
Keane's assassin-like predatory instinct was the cue for Ireland's supporters to delve into depths of feeling that have remained reserved for so long and also, perhaps, may have prompted Delaney to contemplate removing more than merely his tie.
Estonia ended up as a rabble. Ireland cared not a whit.
Ireland have reached the station in impressively quick time. Their destination is now certain. Their destiny lies in Poland and Ukraine. This journey ain't over yet.