Saturday 16 December 2017

What a total waste of time

H as there ever been a sporting fixture as utterly meaningless as Tuesday night's tediumathon between Ireland and Brazil at the Emirates Stadium? Perhaps one of those Railway Cup matches played overseas in front of a few hundred puzzled Uzbeks or Eskimos might compare. Perhaps. Because there is more at stake in the average game of pitch and toss played against a pub wall in Bansha or Granard than there was in London five days ago.

Back when the opening up of Croke Park to soccer and rugby was being discussed, one of the key arguments made in favour of the GAA breaking with tradition was that it would be terrible to see Ireland having to go abroad to play home games. Think of the loss to the local economy if big qualifying matches were played in Liverpool rather than Dublin, those of us who supported a change in the status quo appealed to the GAA.

That's why there was something slightly disquieting about seeing Ireland run out at the Emirates last week to play a game which injected a couple of million or so into the English rather than the Irish economy.

John Delaney and the FAI's line on the game being played at the Emirates was that Kentaro, the Swiss sports rights agency which organised the fixture, "said it was UK venues they were looking at. I requested that they put Croke Park in, although they did say that they felt it was expensive. But they said they would be invited to tender." The FAI supremo effectively took the blame off the FAI for the game not being played in Dublin, saying, "We had a good relationship with Kentaro and wanted them to look at it being played in Dublin, but they said the best bid commercially was the Emirates and that of the four bids, Croke Park was the most expensive."

An argument has been made that the match wasn't even an Irish home game, but this didn't stop the FAI trumpeting the fact that it would see the first appearance of the new Irish home strip which we should all apparently rush out to buy because "it's a fusion of anatomical design and traditional tailoring. The overall look takes inspiration from vintage Irish kits and pays homage to the past in terms of the heritage of Irish teams and an understanding of 'What It Means' to be Irish." Quite an achievement for a football shirt. They should get Mary McAleese to model it.

I also seem to recollect much talk about us being 'awarded' a 'prestigious' friendly with Brazil as 'compensation' for the refereeing decision in Paris which prevented us from winning this year's World Cup. Whether a game in London was much reward for the loyal fans of the national team is more than a little questionable.

There is an inconsistency in John Delaney's statement about the FAI's role in the location of Tuesday night's match. On the one hand he says the Association had "as much input in the venue selection as we would have going to Russia," while on the other he claims to have been sufficiently influential to get Croke Park included in the list of possible venues. If the FAI really was completely powerless and the decision was totally in the hands of Kentaro, then why is Delaney banging on about Croke Park being too expensive?

By his own admission, it had nothing to do with him. Unless, of course, he's looking to get a shot in at the rival association. In which case it appears that while the GAA might be expensive, the FAI are cheap.

Because, now that soccer's term is more or less up, it is worth remembering that, whatever it cost the FAI to play internationals at Croke Park, it cost the GAA a lot more to let those internationals be played there. It cost the Association a great deal of soul searching, division and debate which at times threatened to tear it apart. The right decision was made in the end, but it was not taken lightly. It now appears that the GAA's reward is to be portrayed, by inference, as money grabbers by the head of the rival association.

In any event, if it proved impossible to have the friendly against Brazil played in Dublin, could the FAI have not written off the match and tried to organise a fixture which could have been played on this side of the water? With the World Cup coming up and teams keen for quality friendlies, surely decent opposition could have been sourced had John Delaney and his minions been prepared to put in a bit of work and not leave the whole affair in the hands of a promotions agency with no link to this country. At a time when the hard-pressed business people of Dublin need all the help they can get, finding a big game for the capital would have been an act of practical patriotism. Or is that too much to ask for?

At least then some purpose might have been served by the match. Instead we were left with a half-paced match between a good team and an average team. For all the guff about Brazil's 'samba beat' what they produced on the night was no different than that which would have been expected from at least half of their fellow finalists in South Africa. (What is this 'Samba' stuff anyway? The following night journalists didn't write that 'England Morris Danced their way to victory over Egypt.')

And suggestions that the match in some way enabled Giovanni Trapattoni to learn more about his team also seem way off beam.

What could he have learned? That Shay Given can play in goals, that Kevin Kilbane does all right at left-back, that one of these days the FAI will be sued when someone of a nervous disposition dies from a heart attack caused by watching Paul McShane play centre-back? There were no innovations, no signs of fresh thinking, just the usual players, deep into a tiring season, largely going through the motions. It was a waste of their time and of ours.

And, at a time when the FAI are trying to persuade people to offer long-term support at the remodelled Lansdowne Road (Aviva my arse), it was a missed opportunity. A big game at home would have been some reward for the fans who suffered heartbreak in Paris. Instead they were taken for granted.

The GAA doesn't make mistakes like that.

Sunday Independent

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