Saturday 16 December 2017

Sweet nectar for parched fans who feared drinking in the last-chance saloon

Shane Peppard with sons Callum (6) and Clayton (9), from Clondalkin, Co Dublin, at the game. Photo: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
Shane Peppard with sons Callum (6) and Clayton (9), from Clondalkin, Co Dublin, at the game. Photo: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
An Irish fan applauds Jon Walters’ goal
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Nothing tastes better than a second bite of the cherry.

Especially when you had plummeted to the bottom of the tree - only to rise again like a phoenix from the ashes.

Ireland's Euro dream is alive and kicking once again after sheer dogged tenacity saw the Boys in Green win through against Georgia.

Nobody could have described this as a dream game - it was more than a little long on the dullness factor for that. But Jeff Hendrick's nutmeg was sweet and the goal that followed was like nectar to parched Irish supporters.

Everyone knew this was the last chance saloon.

The crowd may have been 'cosy' in size but hardcore fans valiantly managed to infuse the Aviva stadium with an electric atmosphere.

It happened to be was the 47th birthday of Georgia coach Kakhaber Tskhadadze - but absolutely nobody wanted to gift him this game. In any case, the vital statistics were well in our favour - Ireland having beaten Georgia six times out of six.

But Martin O'Neill wasn't taking any chances and stood tensely on the sideline, arms folded as he surveyed the action - such as it was - in the first half.

A moment's applause in respect for the memory of 98fm's Johnny Lyons, former Ireland international and Shamrock Rovers legend Johnny Fullam, and a number of other recently deceased sporting figures, provided an emotional beginning.

"We're Ireland's top supporters," declared Sarah Behan and Gillian Smith, from Raheny in Dublin, expressing their faith that we would emerge victorious.

Neasa O'Byrne (11), from Harold's Cross in Dublin, meanwhile, had brought her lucky teddy just in case.

Cillian Payne (7) had travelled from Monaghan for the big game and was feeling confident.


Wearing their colours on their sleeve - if they'd had any sleeves - were Shane Peppard and sons Callum (6) and Clayton (9), braving the September chills in green body paint. The devoted Ireland fans from Clondalkin were confident of a win.

"We can do this tonight, and we will have a good shot at the Euros," said Shane.

Taking the game as an opportunity to learn the ropes were a group of young students from the Galway Community College Soccer Academy - the first of its kind in the country.

Course Director Ger Bane revealed that the 14 Leaving Cert students were guests of John Delaney at the Premium level. They were each tasked to carry out an analysis of each player's game and have it ready for the morning.

"They do the six Leaving Cert subjects until 1pm and then they switch to soccer training," Ger explained.

A beautiful effort by Seamus Coleman sparked hope in an otherwise lacklustre first half - but it led to nothing but frustration and an unhappy hum reverberated through the stadium at half time.

Dreams were certainly not made of this.

And word was filtering through that a far more exciting game was taking place in Germany's clash with Scotland.


Nevertheless the Green Army kept their hopes up - even amid the blow of Robbie Keane's departure.

Finally, Jonathan Walters delivered with a goal that changed everything, beautifully set up by Hendrick.

Relief swept through the Green Army and "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole" rang out in sweet ecstasy as they danced in their seats. Finally, for the first time last night, the Aviva was the place to be.

"Come on lads, don't give it away," urged the supporters, alive now with fresh joy as they free-wheeled to full time.

The Euro dream was real once again. But so far, the road to France is every bit as rocky as it was to Poland.

Irish Independent

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