Thursday 18 January 2018

Vincent Hogan: Unfashionable Sammon won't ever be in style for big occasion

6 February 2013; Conor Sammon, Republic of Ireland, in action against Daniel Lukasik, Poland. International Friendly, Republic of Ireland v Poland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE
6 February 2013; Conor Sammon, Republic of Ireland, in action against Daniel Lukasik, Poland. International Friendly, Republic of Ireland v Poland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

NO fairytale then for the stark, square-shouldered kid with the milk bottle complexion. On an evening with a resolutely winter feel, Conor Sammon fluffed his one half-chance of a goal, legs no doubt fatigued from a selfless, long-distance shift in the Lansdowne tundra.

Fashion is a seductive concept and footballers like Sammon will never be fashionable.

Just not enough tricks and eloquence in their shoes. With his shaven head and willing, loose-gaited, running style, he won't often be mistaken for one who learnt his football on a beach.

Yet the public will always identify with a work ethic and the courage to run into dangerous places. Sammon delivers that in spades. If you were to collate his efforts on goal last night, you'd be sitting with a blank page. But the simple humility of his work was wonderful.

And in an era of young, know-nothing millionaires, strutting the stage as if they're a magazine cover just waiting for the photoshoot, that's not as commonplace as we're entitled to expect.

Giovanni Trapattoni (right) is resolutely old-school in his view of the world and, maybe, Sammon's run-all-day approach to life was the Italian's almost unconscious response to this week's match-fixing story, a scandal that so animated him on Tuesday.

The difficulty was in divining Trapattoni's reasons for simply having him here in the first place.

Indeed Trap's match-day selection triggered widespread expressions of bemusement. Ronnie Whelan was on national radio yesterday morning, sounding puzzled as a farmer who'd woken to find crop circles in his corn.

"I just don't get it," groaned Ronnie. And you had to hope that Sammon wasn't listening.

Yet you knew too that Whelan spoke for a sizeable community. If Sammon has been doing well at Derby of late, he's never exactly been a goal factory in his career.

Indeed, apart from a fruitful second season at Kilmarnock, it's safe to say the word "prolific" has never been used in the same sentence as Conor Sammon's name.

So, with Jon Walters and Kevin Doyle sitting on the bench last night, the big Dubliner cannot honestly have mistaken this as an audition for Stockholm next month.

His first contribution was to be slightly late in an attempt to block Kamil Glik's clearance, the Pole falling to the floor, as if the recipient of a sniper's bullet.

Moments later, it was Daniel Lukasik's turn to tumble. Sammon had yet to kick the football, yet no-one was mistaking him for a programme seller.

On 24 minutes, he chased Glik 30 yards infield, terrorising him into an unchallenged handover, the Belgian referee waving away Glik's pleas for stadium security.

But that was the tenor of Sammon's role here. Chasing, harrying, hounding. Running about like a man without an abstract idea in his head.

There was one sublime pass, flicked with the outside of the foot, to James McClean. And, approaching half-time, his headed knock-on to Shane Long almost led to Robbie Brady snatching a near-post addition to Ciaran Clark's opener. But not even the rumour of an opportunity for Sammon himself to test Artur Boruc.

Just after the resumption, Jakub Wawrzyniak was next up to look for access to some kind of witness protection programme, protesting fiercely after a linesman's flag deemed him to have fouled Ireland's circus strong-man.

Sammon was still concentrating minds. Just not in the way of his childhood dreams.

So there was no discernible shape or direction to the partnership with Long, simply because they had such scant material to work with. Most deliveries to the final third were hurried and unpretty, high-bouncing scuds, offering no easy purchase to the front men.

Yet, on 61 minutes, Sammon was granted a single, fleeting glimpse of Glocca Morra.

McClean's cross from the left was shanked directly into his path, a great saucer of space opening before him. But the kid's feet just wouldn't do his bidding and Wojciech Szczesny was able to collect like someone gathering up a spilled wallet. Soon after, Long made way for Wes Hoolahan, Sammon briefly landed with the role of lone striker.

It hardly seemed fair or logical and, sure enough, Walters was soon sent on to redefine the terms of engagement.

By the time, Hoolahan scored Ireland's second, all reticence and structure had been washed from the game, both teams now swinging at one another like kids at war with conkers.

And Sammon, short sleeved of course on a frozen evening, kept running and hassling, hoping against hope for one last lottery throw.

Meantime, the subs kept piling on, yet the fourth official's board did not once show '22'.

The Poles might have been spearheaded by Robert Lewandowski, a man coveted by many of the biggest clubs in Europe. Trapattoni, it seemed, was happy to stick with the big, honest kid with the wooden touch.

In quite what context, who can honestly say? He'll hardly be in Stockholm unless Trap encounters some kind of injury epidemic.

When the last whistle came, Sammon threw a cursory thumbs-up to someone in the West Stand, waved and disappeared into the pitch of a black night. None of us knowing for sure if we'd see him here again.

Irish Independent

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