Thursday 29 September 2016

Dion Fanning: It's frightening to think about Ireland without the wonderful Wes Hoolahan

Dion Fanning

Published 08/10/2015 | 22:15

Republic of Ireland's Wes Hoolahan was immense
Republic of Ireland's Wes Hoolahan was immense

Ireland has waited a long time for a night like this. When the final whistle went here at the Aviva it was possible to wonder if there has ever been a roar like this in the long history of this stadium.

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Ireland had beaten the world champions, they had beaten Germany as few expected them to do but they also released something extraordinary into the night.

When the final whistle went, the players ran wildly towards each other and this great guttural noise rose up in the stands. It was fourteen years since Ireland beat Holland and there were plenty of people in the crowd who have never seen a game like that and many more who wondered if a night like this would ever come again.

The winning goal was a nod to the greatest traditions. A long kick forward by the goalkeeper with Shane Long chasing it over a rigid German defence, but it was a goal which had so much meaning.

It was a victory which guaranteed a play-off place for Ireland and another win - or high scoring draw - on Sunday in Warsaw will lead to automatic qualification, something which seemed beyond any expectation when Ireland drew with Scotland in June.

Instead Ireland defied all predictions. Anyone who knows Long knew he would have been angry when he was left out by Martin O’Neill and there was something of that rage when he chased Darren Randolph’s long ball and finished past Manuel Neuer.

But there were other magnificent players. Wes Hoolahan was immense and brave, setting the tone for an Irish performance from the moment he tried to slow down the pace of the early German attacks.

In defence John O’Shea and Richard Keogh were strong while James McCarthy showed the authority he was always supposed to have.

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.

But the game also entered the arena of the irrational. Thomas Muller missed from twelve yards which seemed the most improbably point of all but then it was all magically improbable.

While Ireland were making the usual defiant noises on Wednesday, across town the Germans were casual and relaxed. They were like a supergroup pitched up in another town on another date. If it’s Thursday, it must be Dublin.

Those who wanted to be hopeful took comfort from their approach. Joachim Low talked about giving his players some rest after a tough weekend with their clubs across Europe and answered questions about the squad for next summer’s European Championships.

This would have stirred something in Ireland once upon a time given Germany still needed a point to qualify but that time appeared to have gone. Last night was a night when that spirit came back.

When Muller had a chance after 22 seconds, it seemed fearing the worst was just seeing the future.

There were moments of hope when the outstanding Robbie Brady and Hoolahan got on the ball.

Sometimes he was on his own and there was one moment when Hoolahan found himself looking for a pass but instead going round in circles in midfield like the Griswolds stuck on a roundabout in European Vacation.

Marco Reus scored twice in the 1-6 game three years ago and he had an early chance before he spent the first half toying with Cyrus Christie who had demonstrated against Gibraltar that he is impressive going forward but not so impressive going backwards.

Ireland were generally in retreat. O’Neill’s team selection with Daryl Murphy upfront and Stephen Ward - who had played once this season in a League Cup tie against Port  Vale - suggested that maybe O’Neill was thinking of Sunday’s game or hoping that Poland would continue Scotland’s misery.

Ireland did their best but the siege that was a fair reflection of the quality of the sides materialised. Jerome Boateng headed over unmarked on the penalty spot. Ilkay Gundogan’s shot was blocked by O’Shea after Reus had dummied beautifully. Keogh got in the way of another, Mesut Ozil had a goal correctly ruled out for offside and put wide after Thomas Muller had pulled the ball back to him.

Ireland, in contrast, heaved and hoed as best they could. Hoolahan was wonderful, demonstrating how flawed the logic which says he must be sacrificed against the toughest opposition has been.

It was frightening to contemplate what Ireland would have looked like without him and also very easy given the number of internationals he has been overlooked for.

As he moved around the pitch giving Ireland hope whenever he got on the ball, it was possible to be excited and sad simultaneously because he was the best chance O’Neill’s side would get something from the game but every touch was a reminder of how his gifts were squandered for so long.

He encouraged others to play too but often that ended badly. Ireland lost Shay Given when he pulled up after a long kick with a twisted knee. Randolph replaced him but Ireland had lost an option from the bench

The crowd took heart from everything as you’d expect. Every overhit German pass was cheered, every tackle won and every free-kick awarded in Ireland’s favour by the excellent if unsentimental Spanish referee was greeted with a roar.

In the second half, Germany looked to be happy with the point which would take them through. They had one devastating move when Manuel Neuer found Reus with a sixty yard ball but Andre Schurrle couldn’t keep the ball down.

With the news from Glasgow getting worse, Ireland needed a win but many felt Warsaw might be the best chance of that.

Murphy went close with a shot before he was replaced by Long. Hummels looked dazed under the long ball as he had for Dortmund at the weekend and Long took advantage.

From then on, we entered the world of the supernatural. Germany missed chances, most improbably when the ball came to Muller right of the penalty spot and he put it wide. The crowd gasped in amazement. Muller never misses chances like those. What kind of a wild and crazy night was this?

Ireland had used all their subs when David Meyler came on to replace the injured Ward so when Robbie Brady went down, Ireland needed him to get back quickly and he did.

Ireland fought and battled and closed down. So much hung on the result in the context of the group but, if possible, it meant even more for Irish football. It was a reminder that the good old days were still possible, that the Ireland team can still create nights of magic and wonder.

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