Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Generosity Reaffirmed

It’s September 8th 2007 and I’m standing outside the Stadium Pasienky in the Slovakian capital Bratislava. It’s about an hour before the kick off of Slovakia Vs Republic of Ireland in a Group D qualifier for the 2008 European Championships. I notice an elderly Irish man meandering his way through the throng of Irish fans waiting on the streets outside the stadium. This individual is clearly the worse for wear and more than likely indulged in a liquid lunch, liquid breakfast and probably liquid snack to get over that half three slump. He walks up to the group I’m standing in and informs us that some of the less desirable residents of Bratislava have relieved him of his match tickets and some cash to boot. I have a spare ticket so I offer it to him, he makes a pathetic offer to rummage a few Slovakian Koruna out of his pocket. I hand him the ticket and tell him to hang onto whatever cash he still has.
Acts of generosity by Irish men weren’t restricted to the streets outside the stadium that night. The national football side grasped a draw from the jaws of victory in the second minute of injury time when Marek Cech drilled them ball home for the home side, sure we wouldn’t want to spoil the locals Saturday night, what kind of guests would we be then?
The first Slovakian goal that night was aided by more generous Irish defending. A corner kick was helped on by a header at the near post, Maros Klimpl took advantage of poor Irish organisation to head home from close range at the back post. Old habits seem to be dying hard. That game was also punctuated by a glorious strike by Kevin Doyle and Stephen Ireland cleverly finishing to make the breakthrough for the boys in green, the only catch with that goal was he was never a boy in green again.
Three years on and Ireland are as generous as ever in this corner of Europe. Robbie Keane was the most giving yesterday. Early in the first half the impressive Shane Long is in possession and takes the ball to the byline on the right side of the Slovakian penalty area, a brilliant low cross by Long across the six yard box just begs for a touch to finish it off. Keane unfortunately is a yard behind the pace in his head and doesn’t read the situation, he makes a vain attempt to slide in for the touch but alas in vain. Seconds from the half time whistle with the game locked at 1-1, Richard Dunne sends a wonderful ball through for Aiden McGeady. The energetic McGeady is now in a foot race with the Slovakian keeper Mucha, McGeady gets the ball, Mucha gets McGeady, penalty kick. Keane steps up, 12 yards out, a very poor effort follows and Mucha is the toast of Zilina. Ireland were clearly on top in the first half with Keith Fahey performing particularly well. It was Fahey’s superb delivery of a free kick in the 16th minute that caused panic in the Slovakian defence, the ball is not cleared properly and Sean St Ledger pounces to slot the ball home. One nil to the visitors, not so generous now, I hope we are not losing friends.
Twenty minutes later Kucka heads on a Slovakian corner at the near post. Glen Whelan is sound asleep at the back post at lets Durica breeze past him to head home from close range. We should really write things down.
Buoyed on by their great escape just before half time the hosts have much better of it in the second half. Darron Gibson is now in centre midfield for Ireland, Paul Green was withdrawn on 42 minutes with a hamstring injury. Green had another underwhelming performance prior to his injury, all too often Irish passing moves ended at the feet of Green. Gibson for all he was an improvement on Green, he didn’t prove to be the crafty locksmith of defences some quarters lauded him as.
Captain Keane wasn’t finished endearing himself to the locals. On 86 minutes Kilbane plays the ball across the area, an instinctive touch from Keane takes him away from his marker, seven yards out with only the keeper to beat, three vital points are there to be taken, Keane blazes it over. Ireland have to settle for a point. If only we were two one up at home against Andorra, Keane would have been un-backable to find the target.
The qualified criticism of Keane back in RTE-land was something to drain a little more power from the batteries in many remote controls. One wonders what would be said by the three wise men if one Christiano Ronaldo had turned in an identically inept performance as Keane in such an important fixture. I fear the ears of the man from Madeira would be an inferno for years to come. He’s a cod Bill, a cod.
The performance in Zilina yesterday was definitely a huge performance on Friday’s debacle in the Aviva Stadium. The first half in particular was very encouraging.  One could argue that if Keane had been absent through injury and not Doyle Ireland could well have plundered Zilina for three points. Centre midfield and defending set pieces continue to be a worry. Keith Fahey wouldn’t be the worst solution in the world for the former issue and you would hope that the latter will get sorted as the campaign continues.
Next up is the friendly against Norway on November 17th. This should be a real chance to blood a few fringe players and try out some more options in the pivotal and problematic area that is centre midfield, oh wait, sorry I forgot.


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