Wednesday 11 December 2019

David Kelly: 'Ireland stir passion of the past but vision of the future remains unclear'

Jeff Hendrick falls to the ground under the challenge of Simon Kjær. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Jeff Hendrick falls to the ground under the challenge of Simon Kjær. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

A dry run for a thirsty nation. Nothing worse than being absent hosts when staging a spectacular party.

Somewhere on earth, the man who once ran the FAI, and whose influence, it was argued, more than anyone else, secured a portion of Euro 2020 for Dublin was perhaps pondering this very irony as the latest instalment of a most peculiar modern international rivalry kicked off.

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At times, those who supported the continuation of John Delaney's reign at the head of affairs in Abbotstown pointed to nights such as this, and the prospect of more to come, as the main validation.

Now all that remained was to discover whether Mick McCarthy and his team would make it to the big bash. It has seemed like an endless quest. And it will remain so for some time yet.

In a way, the team's progress mirrors the FAI's attempts to reform itself - ponderously slow and unconvincing, with few amongst an increasingly doubtful public really believing that they have what it takes to succeed.

Successive

Rare oul times: Mick McCarthy’s obligation was to return the feel-good factor to Irish football. Photo: PA
Rare oul times: Mick McCarthy’s obligation was to return the feel-good factor to Irish football. Photo: PA

As the association continues to reel from successive scandals, the players in this stadium, one which hangs like a millstone around the FAI's brass necks, had the onerous responsibility of helping a nation to forget how ill-served they have been by those in charge of their sport.

The occasional big gesture, like Matt Doherty's late header, offers illusory hope. McCarthy's obligation - acquired at elaborate expense - has been to return the feel-good factor to Irish football.

And nothing feels better than an appearance at a major tournament. But one at home? The prospect dripped with anticipation and the nostalgia which smothered the final moments of the build-up were a reminder of the deepest emotional connection a successful Ireland football team forges on the nation's psyche.

It did so in 2016 and 2012, when everyone conveniently ignored the widespread neglect in so many areas of Irish football - the inebriated invasions on Poland and France and the parochial plastic hammer waving at home a convenient shield to mask a multitude of problems.

The €10m for qualification would only effect a minor dent on the legacy of mismanagement.

Yet again, a lavishly paid management team have served to merely paper over the cracks of a game that has been in crisis for years. History shows there has been no trickle down from the occasional salad days.

John Aldridge pops up for an interview to reel in the years before the big screens display their own version of Reeling in the Years, sights and sounds from the sepia-tinted days of Euro '88 and Italia '90 - a majority of the attendance would not have been alive for either event.

Funny, all the money earned back in those days was wasted, too.

The Portuguese have a potent word for this type of fawning, clinging sentimentality - 'saudades' - it can't be translated but it can explain Ireland's adherence to the past so often toys with a distaste for the present.

Ireland fans have other thirsts to quench, of course; only a few thousand were inside for the warm-up and thousands remained outside by kick-off; the need for pints as desperate as the quest for points.

The trains weren't stopping at Lansdowne Road before this one, by order of the big noises in UEFA, treating this game as a de facto rehearsal for the group games that will be held in this stadium next year.

Ireland' s prospects of featuring in one of them could have been definitively decided last night but it would require a night hewn from that mystical highlights reel of Roy Keane tackles and Aldo's goals.

Attitude

Attitude rather than aptitude defines occasions such as this. The Danish bus was delayed in Dublin traffic - their players sometimes seemed as if they would rather have remained there.

Only needing a draw, Denmark's class lacked conviction from the off; in contrast, Ireland's conviction often lacked class.

Another Delaney, Danish playmaker Thomas, departed the stage much earlier than he might have expected, a bit like his namesake.

His side didn't seem intent on playing, however. Ireland struggled too, their best pair of first-half chances deriving from winning the second ball after long back-to-front passes.

Just like the men in suits, the men in tracksuits clung to the ways of old. Jack Byrne and Troy Parrott remained unused, a symbolic rejection of a new way of doing things.

But times are changing and soon those winds will sweep in the revolution required to evolve tired and untrusted methods.

Until then, they stagger into spring.

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