Sport Soccer

Friday 15 December 2017

Trap finds beauty in points on the board

Robbie Keane celebrates scoring Ireland's third goal against Andorra
last night. Photo: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile
Robbie Keane celebrates scoring Ireland's third goal against Andorra last night. Photo: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

It was a night of equivocal glory in the Aviva where Irish victory was delivered with a cold breath on the neck.

Great tracts of empty green seats spoke of an equivocation this team is not accustomed to from its public and the performance seemed to fall in synch with the attendant vibe. Ireland looked restless and untidy and, at times, the noise accused them.

To be fair, these games become the equivalent of landing blows on a punch-bag. Fatigue gets you in the end. And Ireland's play regressed further with each beat of the clock. By the close, they were just running on fumes.

Irish teams have never, historically, been the most whimsical of God's creatures and Trap's is faithful to that orthodoxy. Work defines them. They invade opponents' minds with football that is, above all, a letter of humility.


Against the big sides, Ireland's energy sometimes skews the eco-system. It exposes conceit, giving football's show-ponies a right royal dose of piles. They don't appreciate the Glenn Whelans of this world chasing 30/70 balls that frisk about their cut-glass ankles.

Whelan won't just do that in a competitive fixture, he'll do it in a warm-down. It's keyed into his nervous system. You make tackles or you die.

Against the Andorras of football, Glenn becomes less important because he is less different. Cursed to live lives of endless condescension, the tackle is their oxygen. They know that no-one falls dizzy from the tracery of their passing, but they can kick and body-check and, generally, discommode with the cold efficiency of any team so accustomed to playing on the back foot.

So they parked the bus across the goal of Josep Antoni Gomes last night, knifed the tyres and invited Ireland to locate a crane in the allotted time.

It turned the evening into a hunt.

The hard strategist in Trapattoni could respect that kind of obstinacy. The devotion to order. Those who thought he might gamble with last night's team don't seem to understand him or his creed. Everything he has achieved in football has been predicated on structure.

In last night's match programme, he wrote of anticipating "a test of our patience" and the attendant imperative of retaining "shape and balance". That is his language. Football through an observance of care.

An early goal is the prayer for such gatherings, because it decommissions the tension. So Kevin Kilbane's 14th-minute breakthrough came as a God-send. For Andorra chasing a game is a bit like Goldilocks following a bear into the woods. No good will come of it.

They sit seventh from bottom of FIFA's rankings -- East Timor and San Marino on either side of them -- and their population is roughly what Croke Park housed for last Sunday's hurling final.

Kilbane's score brought the promise of a hatful then, even if the portents hadn't been promising beforehand when efforts by the captains to read out anti-racism messages were aborted.

Yet, half a minute in, Robbie Keane and Ildefons Lima were back in close proximity, the Irishman's quicksilver feet drawing a last-ditch foul from his Andorran counterpart. And soon Aiden McGeady was so busy down the left flank, his marker -- Jordi Escura -- looked in need of consular assistance.

The game had already settled into a one-way system.

It lacked the urgency of a contest, of course, and Kevin Doyle's 40th-minute thunderbolt arrived just as the natives were growing a little truculent. That is the curse of presumption. It feeds an inner monster.

When Lima scored in the old Lansdowne nine years ago, smelling salts were required for the game to resume. There wasn't quite the same collective gasp of disbelief last night when, on the cusp of half-time, Christian Martinez's volley whooshed past Shay Given.

If anything, the crowd seemed a little tranquilized by now. And what followed was a grind.

They played the second half without ever setting off fireworks. Trapattoni withdrew Whelan, as if even he had become a mite weary of the grind and clank of the football. It mattered little. Andorra weren't inclined to take down the roadblocks and Ireland hadn't the finesse to fly around them.

They did mine a beauty of a third with the lively McGeady necklacing passes with Paul Green and Kevin Doyle before Keane dinked a picture-book finish. You watched the move in slow motion again and wondered why it had to be such an isolated passage of ambition.

No matter, Trapattoni will tell you his life work has been defined by points on a table, not beauty of expression.

Ireland sit top of their Group this morning and that is the Italian's bottom line. With a beleaguered Russia next up on October 8, the arithmetic of this campaign could soon make pleasant viewing.

Yet, the FAI will surely hope the 'house full' signs are required that evening, for their new home has a mortgage, the servicing of which has already generated a blaze of pessimistic newsprint.

Last night's official attendance of 40,283 sounded like an exercise in eccentric accounting and you could sense an understanding of that travel through the stands.

No matter, the campaign is up and running. Trap looks healthy and sanguine. What on earth could ever go wrong?

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