Tuesday 25 July 2017

Comment: Roy Keane said look Germany in the eye... and the Irish players sure did

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill celebrates with Roy Keane and Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane following his side's victory. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Germany. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill celebrates with Roy Keane and Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane following his side's victory. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Germany. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Roy Curtis

Roy Curtis

Martin O’Neill had insisted he would not place ambition under house-arrest, that wit and imagination would not be designated as indictable offences.

Roy Keane spoke of a six-point mission, of looking Germany and Poland in the eye and not feeling even a pinprick of inferiority.

Shane Long and Wes Hoolahan, mercifully, took their commanders at their word.

Against the finest football force on earth, Long and Hoolahan choreographed a beautiful ballet called Hope.  

They were time-lords transporting Irish football back to another heady, more innocent time; they were mixologists serving a giddy cocktail called delirium.

It is difficult to overstate the life-affirming, era-changing downdraft of this night:  Irish football has climbed out of the casket, is reborn.

Over a seismic, divine 90 minutes, the ghosts of the old Lansdowne Road filled the new arena.  This was the night the Aviva found both its voice and its soul.

It is true that Ireland rode their luck outrageously, that at times there was a Rorke’s Drift feel to the Teutonic siege;  that O’Neill could have uniformed 11 felines in green shirts and not have expected them to use up as many lives.

But, heck, their ambition, their courage merited easily the most significant victory since Louis Van Gaal’s Dutch were famously undone 14 years ago.

Long’s goal, a triumph of pace and craving, a laser strike that reduced the world’s greatest goalkeeper to a helpless bystander was the banquet of glory a malnourished nation could scarcely believe they were feasting upon.

8 October 2015; Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Germany. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
8 October 2015; Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Germany. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Germany. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, shoots past Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to score his side's first goal despite the attempts of J?r?me Boateng. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Germany. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, shoots to score his side's first goal despite the attempts of J?r?me Boateng, Germany. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Germany. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Germany's Jerome Boateng and Republic of Ireland's Jonathan Walters (right) battle for the ball during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Germany's Jerome Boateng and Republic of Ireland's Jeff Hendrick (right) battle for the ball during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Republic of Ireland's Wes Hoolahan during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Germany's Jonas Hector and Republic of Ireland's James McCarthy (right) battle for the ball during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Germany's Mario Gotze before going off injured Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Germany's Mario Gotze before going off injured Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger (centre) before the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Republic of Ireland's Shay Given is stretchered off for Darren Randolph after sustaining an injury as manager Martin O'Neill looks on Reuters / Phil Noble Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane (left) and manager Martin O'Neill before the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane during the warm-up before the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Republic of Ireland's Shay Given is stretchered off after sustaining an injury as manager Martin O'Neill looks on Reuters / Phil Noble Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Republic of Ireland's Wes Hoolahan and Germany's Jerome Boateng (left) battle for the ball during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Germany manager Joachim Low on the touchline during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Republic of Ireland's Jonathan Walters in action with Germany's Matthias Ginter Reuters / Phil Noble Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Republic of Ireland's Daryl Murphy and Germany's Jerome Boateng (right) battle for the ball during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Republic of Ireland's James McCarthy Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Germany's Ilkay Gundogan Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Republic of Ireland's Jonathan Walters in action with Germany's Matthias Ginter Reuters / Phil Noble Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Germany's Ilkay Gundogan Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Republic of Ireland's James McCarthy Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Republic of Ireland's Shay Given is stretchered off after sustaining an injury Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Republic of Ireland's Shay Given is stretchered off after sustaining an injury Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Republic of Ireland's Shay Given is stretchered off after sustaining an injury Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Germany's Jerome Boateng in action with Republic of Ireland's Jonathan Walters Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Germany's Mario Gotze in action with Republic of Ireland's James McCarthy Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Republic of Ireland's Stephen Ward Reuters / Phil Noble Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Germany's Manuel Neuer Reuters / Phil Noble Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Republic of Ireland's Jonathan Walters (left) goes down under a challenge from Germany's Mats Hummels during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Republic of Ireland's Wes Hoolahan (right) in action with Germany's Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan (left) during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Republic of Ireland's Robert Brady and Germany's Jerome Boateng (left) battle for the ball during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Republic of Ireland's Robert Brady in action during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Football - Republic of Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 8/10/15 Germany's Thomas Muller in action with Republic of Ireland's Stephen Ward Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

And if there was defensive heroism, if Robbie Brady again hinted at what he might yet become, the fingerprints of one man were all over this shining, heavenly evening.

If Hoolahan is no more physically imposing than a fountain pen, he is equally as adept at producing gorgeous, heart-soaring calligraphy.

Wes decorates any contest that he is permitted to make his canvass in a vibrant mosaic of rich, vivid, fearless brushstrokes.  Nights like this offer the most damning verdict on the monochrome world view, the Latin conservatism which compelled Giovanni Trapattoni to allow Hoolahan’s technicolour talents gather dust.

The little playmaker has stitched a deep pile carpet of optimism out of a tattered, threadbare dream.

True, Poland’s goal in the dying embers of the Glasgow conflagration delivered a huge, gaping wound to Ireland’s prospects of automatic qualification.

And yet it is not only those with ocean-deep pockets or a gambling dependence who will be tempted to take a punt on O’Neill’s side securing the victory they require to avoid the roundabout route of a playoff.

Because players like Hoolahan are a powerful antidote against despair.

His inventive DNA is a might counter-current to the undertow of despair that has sucked Ireland under for so long, that screams that the nation might join Iceland, Wales and Northern Ireland in France next summer.

No longer are O’Neill’s side doomed for the Siberia of a fourth-place finish.  

And on a proud night, perhaps the most uplifting statistic – other than the result of course – is that Hoolahan would not have looked remotely out of place had he been handed a white German shirt.

He brings an artist’s imagination, the fearlessness of a card-shark, the courage of a player who is unafraid to fail.

His every flourish speaks of an old-world conviction about how the game should be played.

To think now of the scandal of Trapattoni’s exiling of the Norwich sorcerer, Ireland reduced to creative wasteland, a tundra of daring, a wilderness of hope while the little man’s magic wand was wilfully decommissioned.

But on a feel good night, as Ballsbridge shook with an ecstatic sense of achievement, there was no reason to linger on the past.

O’Neill and his team served Ireland what they have craved for so long:  A reason to look forward with hope.

The priceless gift came from Shane and Wes, they bequeathed the nation an indelible memory, a miracle and as the Aviva palpitated with joy, that was the unforgettable Long and short of it.

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