Tuesday 20 March 2018

David Kelly: The plot sickens from the needle and the damage done

Ireland’s John O’Shea is hit by a late tackle from Wales’ Gareth Bale. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland’s John O’Shea is hit by a late tackle from Wales’ Gareth Bale. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

The scoreline revealed a night where they were no losers. But there was one, and it lay screaming into the clear, icy chill of the night sky as Seamus Coleman lay prostrate on the turf, clutching in stunned, almost catatonic disbelief, the instrument of his profession.

In a game where there was little of aesthetic pleasure to behold for those purveyors of what is, only occasionally, a beautiful game, Neil Taylor's slight is something rather more shocking and distasteful.

It was purely wilful and wicked.

In a game where mundanity reigned supreme, the descent into sudden and unexpected violence jarred so much with what went before, albeit a steady fluttering of wild elbows and rampant studs had, perhaps, betrayed a stirring undercurrent of the untoward.

Before half-time, the becalmed set of dire duellists, as if unsated by the limited nature of the contest thus far, jostled for the first time.

Glenn Whelan elbowed Joe Allen in the throat; Allen the Stoke team-mate who had thieved his club place and dominated the first-half midfield exchanges.

Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli espied it all with a languid air of Mediterranean detachment; his laissez-faire approach would soon have the direst of consequences.

Until now, Gareth Bale had been the chief influence on the game, a conductor seeking an appropriate orchestra, although Allen had manfully played a sweet enough tune at times.

His only concession to difference are an elaborate pair of black gloves; branded, of course.

He begins on the front foot; an elaborate positioning in splendid isolation 20 metres behind Stephen Ward to receive a goal-kick that barely passes halfway but, with his side's first possession, comes deep as a playmaker.

Ward abandons him to clatter Allen, Wales' chief instigator. Bale's lofted free comes to naught.

His first run from deep produced a statement, but he is not its author; instead, James McClean, a man swimming in intense emotion, clatters and flattens him on halfway, with wonderful, legitimate legality.

Bales's scattergun pace next takes him from right to left, easing away from Coleman but his cross is an empty gesture.

His reputation precedes him clearly; so too that of the more asinine members of the audience who greet one of this sport's true world-class talents with a cacophony of feral boos.

If an attempt to discommode one who has played in blood-curdling North London and Madrid derbies, it is as pathetic as it is puerile.

When their condemnation justifiably arrives later, it seems rather cheap and self-serving.

Bale continues to wander, almost listlessly; Ireland's unmoving defence allow him to; further ahead, they finally win two tackles in midfield to stem the influence of the agitators, momentarily.

Bale's agitation grows exponentially as his side starts walking in quicksand; in one wonderful moment, he does toy with Coleman before sending a wonderful, dipping shot that kisses Randolph's post.

But his side's attempts to create are being stifled and, as Chris Coleman alludes to afterwards, they appear to be put off their stride by what they perceive as Ireland's heavy-handed approach.

And so it seemed they took matters into their own hands. The plot sickens.


Bale himself, arguably, could have been sent off for lunging at John O'Shea; at least the ball was in the same postcode as the pair clashed in the penalty area.

Bale feigned surprise at a yellow that will absent him from the home game with Serbia. O'Shea didn't need to seek any pretence to his own sense of injury; "John had a nasty shin injury, he didn't complain about it. It wasn't great," confirms his manager.

Typically, O'Shea doesn't even mention it himself afterwards.

Instead, like his manager, whose own painful grimace offered merely an impression of the anguish felt by his captain just a few seconds later, all thoughts alight upon the stricken Killybegs man.

"I won't ridicule him," says James McClean who, this week, has buried both a friend and a political hero before delivering one of the performances of his life.

"He knows himself that it is a bad tackle. I just hope it is not too serious."

Taylor has already drawn blood in this campaign after clashing with Serbia's Tadic; this was something more wildly and randomly indiscriminate.

The immediate onset of oxygen is a dramatic gesture but hints that the immediate impact is so severe that immediate contemplation of a return to footballing fields may be a forlorn hope.

"It is a bad break," confirms O'Neill. "Fingers crossed for him," adds O'Shea. "It looked a bad one. Our thoughts are with him. He'll come back bigger and stronger as he always does. He has a fantastic attitude."

Chris Coleman seems to wrap it all in an ill-fitting bandage of clichéd claptrap, doffing the predictable nod to the vicissitudes of a "British derby", "needle" and repeatedly referring to the fact that Neil Taylor is "not that type of player."

Nobody had suggested he wasn't; the tackle was offensive, not the player.

"Your guys weren't coming off the field with halos either," he says, mirroring a evening striding ungraciously into darkness.

"He's had a serious injury himself, he's despondent in there, disappointed, he's not himself. He went in looking for Seamus…"

Sadly, he couldn't locate his quarry a second time. He was already on a surgeon's slab.

Irish Independent

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