Following the typical absurdities and farce that was Giovanni Trapattoni’s pre match press conference immediately before the game against Greece, there were some notable positives to be taken from the action which took place at Lansdowne Road on Wednesday night.
On the night, the Irish were unlucky to lose 1-0 thanks to an excellent finish from Holebas just before the half hour mark. The Republic should have had at least two penalties (one for a handball inside the opening minute of play and the other spot kick should have been awarded when substitute Kevin Doyle was unceremoniously dragged to the ground when he looked certain to score early in the second half); but the referee was certainly not a ‘homer’ and on each occasion he waved play on.
The final whistle was greeted with mild booing by the 12,000 ‘strong’ crowd – though one presumes that those boos were more related to what had happened over the duration of this year rather than anything on show from the Greek game. Either way, the boos weren’t loud enough (partly because the crowd was so dispersed) to register much on the decibel scale and they were quickly drowned out by a booming PA announcement over the tannoy at the Aviva Stadium.
The positives on the night for Ireland were mainly individual performances, with Everton’s Séamus Coleman particularly outstanding and new man Hoolahan also doing well whilst showing football intelligence when he came in at half time. Provided he remains in his current playing form, Coleman should be Ireland’s first choice right back for the World Cup qualifiers in the spring and Trapattoni has stated (somewhat bizarrely considering that the game is more than three months away) that the Donegal native will start the game against Sweden if fit. Coleman’s performance against Greece (along with numerous other performances) have risen the issue of why oh why has the 24 year-old not been first choice right back for his country for many, many months. To a lesser extent, the same could also be said of Hoolahan further up the pitch, a man whose Premier League performances – and ability to link midfield to attack – have been crying out for international recognition, particularly the dearth in quality of Irish performances for some time now.
Back in the early 1990s, if a fan of the Irish international football team had been told that within 20 years the Boys in Green would play in front of a less than quarter full Lansdowne Road, with a manager who can’t speak English and a team, who, for almost all the competitive fixtures of the year just gone had played with almost entirely overwhelming fear and little or no heart – that fan would have said you were an idiot. While this observer would dearly love for the incumbent manager to gracefully exit stage, that is currently not a live possibility, so we must make do with what we have.
The year 2012 is one which Irish football fans will want to quickly forget, but it has ended with some hope for the future with a possé of youngsters – including Robbie Brady, David Meyler and Coleman – and some not so young (for example Hoolahan) coming through the ranks. Whether those emerging players are employed when the serious international business resumes in March, remains to be seen, but from the smallest acorns – such as a performance like that witnessed against Greece – do mighty oaks grow.