Thursday 18 January 2018

Non-event will have taught Trap nothing

Mascots match provides spicier fare than half-hearted contest

David Kelly

David Kelly

To paraphrase dear old Groucho, Irish football has enjoyed some great occasions. This was most certainly not one of them.

If England was "more than a friendly", as the cliche-riddled commentariat would have it, one was moved during yesterday's frequent longeurs to ponder upon a description for this encounter.

Less than a friendly, perhaps? A meeting of two teams utterly indifferent to one another? The clash of those who frankly could not be bothered?

This was a first in the history of entertainment: when those who came for the warm-up act decided to sod off before the main event.

It was difficult not to admire the remarkable prescience of the FAI Junior Cup supporters who decided to bail out when the going was good.

Some of the turnstiles were not functioning at Lansdowne Road; there were hardly any concerns about overcrowding yesterday.

This was enough to drive any sober person to drink; except, this being a soccer international, the stadium bars were not open, natch.

Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni had posited the quite preposterous notion – and he has compiled quite a list in his time in charge – that Ireland were staging this one for the money.

The cash-strapped FAI, whose perennial problems in the field of usury were once more under the microscope in the Sunday papers, would have had more success raising loot by staging a car boot sale in Abbottstown.

Appropriately, and speaking of desperate financial measures, Ireland unveiled their latest in a long line of cut-throat rip-offs – the replica jersey – and a suitably black ensemble it was too.

All colour was seemingly drained from the occasion before a ball was even kicked. Stadium sponsors Aviva would have been most pleased; the giant white lettering which swathes the lower tiers was clearly visible such was the depopulation of the stands.

PERFECT

And so Dublin 4 offered the perfect setting for serene anonymity; dutifully, the Georgians fulfilled their role with admirable precision.

Ireland, in stark contrast, lumbered fitfully in a heartfelt impression of trying to convince themselves they were something that they were not; at least Linda Martin covering 'Daft Punk' was brave, even if foolishly so.

Ireland produced nothing worthwhile in the realms of self-discovery; by the end of the first quarter, even the supposedly revolutionary decision to task a 31-year-old Premier League star as an exercise in experimentation was doomed to failure.

Wes Hoolahan probably would have had to don clown shoes and occasionally parade around on a unicycle to impress Trap with his tricks and subtleties.

Against a 10-man Georgian side who were even less committed than when they had been an 11-man Georgian side, his efforts were superfluous.

Incredibly, there had not been a free-kick – or, it seemed, a tackle – in 20 minutes when the game lurched in Ireland's favour thanks to a horrendous error from Georgian goalkeeper Giorgi Loria.

Aside from Hoolahan, Ireland's best passing moves stemmed from Georgian errors; Loria's full-back was one such source, tempting both Shane Long and the dithering goalkeeper to challenge for his appalling back-pass that unlocked his own defence.

Loria's fatal lack of will – as in "will I come off my line or won't I?" – caused him to upend Long.

He picked a bad day to encounter Romanian whistler Sebastian Coltescu; last week he encountered a ravenous netminder with the appetite of a Luis Suarez in his domestic league, that game degenerated into a riot.

Here, in stark contrast, the referee's interjection was akin to someone exhaling wind during a funeral service.

And so Loria departed and Migineishvili arrived, much to the torment of TV commentators and those of us faintly wishing for a semblance of a contest.

The birthday boy in goal saved James McClean's subsequent free but would desolately pluck the ball from his net on four occasions. Georgia, who had enjoyed the usual profit of minnows who visit Dublin and are greeted by two central midfielders, sacrificed their extra man and with it all hope.

Hence, asking Hoolahan to prove his worth in such circumstances was akin to demanding Rembrandt to colour by numbers. But then, doing things by rote is a fetish for this Irish side.

Ireland inevitably opened their account and Georgia's embattled manager Temuri Ketsbaia searched vainly for some hoardings to kick, as he once did so spectacularly when a Newcastle player.

Invitingly, the revolving displays encircling the pitch displayed a McDonald's sign but even the shaven-headed manager, like his team, chose to refuse the fight.

Indeed, there was more physical intent among the half-time mascots; 'Hooperman', the pugilistic puppet, may have added a tad more spice to the impotent Georgian midfield area in which Hoolahan and James McCarthy roamed at will.

When Ireland's second goal went in, the home players walked leisurely to greet Simon Cox and even their lack of enthusiasm was palpable.

More shocking than the absence of any semblance of competitiveness was the complete redundancy in terms of tempo until much too late; Ireland played as if reluctant to shift into second gear, never mind anything resembling a meaningful impression of international football's pulse rate.

After being disgracefully hounded out of their home venue, not without some encouragement from a weaselly FAI, the Georgians will wonder this morning why they even bothered to accept the organisation's invitation to return to Dublin after this shambolic affair.

At least Robbie Keane arrived late in the piece, as Ireland moderately stepped up the pace, to remind us of his extraordinary longevity; matching Shay Given's international record and embroidering his astonishing goalscoring record to boot.

That told us nothing that we did not already know which, in a sense, summed up the entire non-event.

Irish Independent

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