Desperate search for goals at 11th hour makes Irish slump look never ending
As the dwindling population of city centre office dwellers dart beneath us at great speed, the slow, lumbering animal of international football’s doldrums are down for decision in the cavernous plastic bowl by the Dodder.
The Nations League was introduced to allow teams find their appropriate level. These pair were battling to avoid theirs including Luxembourg.
Having waited nearly 11 hours to score a goal, Ireland finish with two fresh strikers seeking to do what none of their predecessors have done since football’s return.
They fail, too. Ireland don’t lose but it still feels like a tiny grief.
Even though there is nobody here, the weight of waiting hangs like a pall about the place. The wind is whipping a furious frenzy of howling fury through the gaps where people should be.
One of the managers here will more than likely be, as the supporters might delight in singing were they here, sacked in the morning.
The visitors once charmed the globe at World Cups with exotic stars who seemed to double as extras from a Sergio Leone movie but those days belong to another time and place.
That feeling seems familiar.
They are embarking upon (another) period of transition but the perils of beginning such a process amidst a slump is that it may seem never-ending. Which is why the manager would end if this went the wrong way.
All this seems familiar, too.
A former caretaker of the Ireland job now in the business of caretaking media opinion suggests Kenny could lose his job, too.
He once unabashedly declared that Kenny was the Messiah.
There is not a sound in the stadium but the echoes of judgements from the four corners of the land are deafening.
Ireland’s almost desperate search for a sense of themselves is palpable; a slew of absentees requires another collection of names assembled as if by rota of mere availability, a concoction of the tired but trusted and more new faces.
Jason Knight has been likened to Roy Keane, a not uncommon burden; last week it was Jayson Molumby according to the pointy-heads who profess to know these things.
He is a bundle of energy but seems incapable of expressing it; a gift in the centre circle should prompt him to carry, deep, but he passes, short and the ball is surrendered; Conor Hourihane wins it back but he and Robbie Brady combine to cough it up again.
Three footballing generations in an uncertain team at an uncertain time. Ryan Manning races forward but lets the ball run out play. He is more successful when scything Spas Delev and is grateful for the referee’s leniency.
Shane Duffy’s clemency with the ball is now a damaging liability but his presence as Ireland’s chief scoring threat seems to absolve him, his header on the half-hour the only quality chance produced from that period’s huffing and puffing.
Hourihane’s lack of quality on the ball is less forgivable.
Bulgaria dominate with icy cool and Ireland are pushed back, inexorably, much to their manager’s chagrin. He beckons at James Collins but the toiling striker merely wipes the sweat from his brow.
Knight and Duffy, entangled by indecision, prompt Bulgaria’s best chance but mercifully their chronic lack of confidence saves Irish blushes.
Ireland’s midfield three are unable to cover the ground to help their full-backs, particularly on the left side, where the visitors roam freely.
Out of the blue, Robbie Brady’s heavily hyped set-piece produces a clear opportunity for the only Irish striker, we are told, who scores goals.
Except on this occasion, James Collins does not. Sixty seconds later, after Daryl Horgan, switching to a more effective right flank role, jinks and dinks an inviting cross, Collins repeats the feat. Give him time. He only turns 30 next month. Still, he remains the best option.
Ireland enter an eleventh goalless hour as the bush telegraph freights news that an Irishman has scored for England. Truly, 2020 is mocking us now.
The flurry of yellow cards for some reckless tackling reminds us of the perilously high stakes in the race to avoid ignominy. The lack of personality is startling.
“What were we hoping to get out of this? Some kind of momentary bliss?” Conor J O’Brien sings at half-time, music playing for no reason in particular considering there is nobody here to appreciate it.
Ireland improve slightly but when Bulgaria make a trio of changes, they improve more. Josh Cullen then arrives and Ireland are renewed in pep as Robbie Brady caroms the crossbar before hobbling from the rutted field in pain.