The first meeting in Dublin between Ireland and England since the abandoned game twenty years ago crackled with the same sense of danger as a man trimming his hedge on a Sunday afternoon. This was certainly better than one of the alternatives but there was very little to get excited about in a game which finished scoreless, a result which seemed inevitable from about 90 seconds in.
Maybe there was a lesson here, maybe the conflicts of the world could be ended, or at least bored into submission, by an end-of-season friendly.
Perhaps this is what peace looks like. Roy Hodgson had pointed out on Saturday that a lot had changed since 1995 and, as if to underline his point, he talked about a place called the ‘Irish mainland’, We welcomed this reversal of the normal roles, with an Englishmen elevating Ireland to the position of power, with the English now the colonised people making their way towards the capital of the empire.
These gestures were appreciated but it turned out that the greatest gesture towards the fans would have been not to have the game at all.
Of course, some wounds are too deep and too raw to be forgotten. Raheem Sterling was booed by the Liverpool supporters in the crowd every time he touched the ball, although that wasn’t too often. Some frowned on this confusion - were these Liverpool or Ireland fans? - but the crowd were trying to entertain themselves and they had to do it any way they could.
On Saturday the managers had anticipated a game that would fizzle with energy, at least initially. They had warned that the match would lose its way, as friendlies always do, once the substitutions started in the second half. During a mind-numbingly awful first half, there was an overwhelming feeling of dread about what it would be like when its edge was dulled.
Ireland had their moments, Daryl Murphy put a chance past the post and David McGoldrick had an opportunity just before half-time.
England had been quiet, as if they didn’t want to do anything that might liven up the crowd, but that would have been some achievement and the game had even sucked the comic potential out of Phil Jones.
The only entertainment came from the crowd. There were anti-John Delaney chants in the south stand which were a response to the England chant, ‘Sepp Blatter, he paid for your ground’. ‘Not all of it,’ would have been the only convincing retort.
Thierry Henry’s name was also mentioned by the England fans who also were bored by what they were watching. Glenn Whelan got back to block Wayne Rooney early on and there were some scrambled in the Ireland box but nothing of consequence. On the England bench, even Roy Hodgson looked bored.
The home crowd booed whenever the England fans sang ‘God Save the Queen’ but there was no sign of the sectarian or anti-IRA songs some had worried about. There was an occasional glimpse of a ‘Delaney Out’ banner which others had worried about.
Adam Lallana, who couldn’t be accused of not reproducing his Liverpool form for England on this performance, took a corner which went directly out of play, something which summed up the first half and the game.
The second half started at the same half-pace and Rooney miscontrolled when through on goal and Joe Hart failed to hold a Robbie Brady free-kick.
Ireland came to life briefly and looked like maybe they could take some meaning from the game. Ahead of the Scotland match next Saturday, a victory against England would surely do something for their confidence.
McGoldrick came off at half time, a sign that he is still a long way from fitness, and Shane Long made more of an impression. Jon Walters was also on and drew a save from Hart but Aiden McGeady couldn’t control the rebound and once again the match returned to its slow pace.
Harry Arter had impressed O’Neill during the behind-closed-doors friendly with Northern Ireland and he showed promise when he came on but it made little difference.
This was a game that couldn’t overcome what it was which may be welcome in the context of what happened twenty years ago. Both teams have more important matches next weekend but Ireland’s is critical. Martin O’Neill will hope things are a little different at the Aviva next Saturday.
There was little to reflect on from the game but there were a few moments to cherish. Beforehand England fans joined in the moving appreciation for Ray Treacy and Tommy Dunne. When Jack Charlton was brought onto the pitch, the England and Irish fans stood together to applaud. Here was a World Cup winner whose place in Irish football history is even more profound. Nearly everything that took place at the Aviva was forgettable but this was something to remember.