Football

How The Slovakians Almost Made And Ended Up Breaking Steve Staunton As Ireland Manager

How The Slovakians Almost Made And Ended Up Breaking Steve Staunton As Ireland Manager

Two days after Ireland's mortifying 2-1 away win over San Marino in February 2007, we received the ultimate proof that Steve Staunton, a man who amassed over 100 caps for Ireland and a veteran of three World Cups, had become a laughing stock.

With a general election only months away, the Late Late Show invited a UK body language expert on to assess the behaviour and physical ticks of the party leaders.

Towards the end of the slot, they pulled out a clip of a sheepish looking Stan fronting up before the accusing faces of the press corps following the San Marino game.

With his shoulders hunched and his face white with terror, Staunton tried to energise the assembled by saying that Ireland are 'usually strong in March'. The normally reserved

The normally reserved Late Late Show audience broke into cruel laughter before the body language expert could deliver his assessment. It was clear that Stan had become a figure of ridicule.

Ironically, Ireland did turn out to be strong in March. Six points were taken from two games in Croke Park. The first of these, over Wales, received a rather sniffy response from the football public as if a 1-0 win over Wales was something we were entitled to turn up our nose at.

The victory over Slovakia a few days later generated real approval and was the undoubted high point of Staunton's reign.

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After a quarter of an hour, Damien Duff curled in a free kick, Kevin Doyle clambered over Martin Skrtel and directed a header past the Slovakian keeper.

The Slovakians had their chances afterwards and were bitterly annoyed when they were denied a penalty after a desperate Paul McShane tackle in the box. But the game could have finished 2-0 as easily as 1-1, a Shane Long header from a corner was somehow repelled in the closing stages.

Keith Duggan, who consistently decried the pillorying of Staunton during his reign, wrote the Irish Times TV review for the night.

He may well go down as the first person to dare to suggest that the famed 'A-team panel' might need to be moved along soon.

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On the sideline, Staunton mooched around with his hands deep in his pocket, fertilising the Croke Park grass with little bullet spits. He looked like a wealthy farmer watching prize heifers in the parade ring. There were times when Ireland played some sparkling football...

'History is made in Croke Park. Never before has Ireland won four European championship games in a row,' declared Hamilton.

Staunton, the condemned man, smiled broadly. Shay Given pumped the air. Duff pumped the air. But back in the studio, the boys were still glum.

'Steve Staunton has definitely dodged a bullet. This stuff about four games is just a statistic,' said Dunphy.

The Slovakia win was a rare note of joy in Staunton's otherwise traumatic reign.

In the corresponding fixture in Slovakia that September, Ireland led 2-1 entering injury-time. It would have been a very significant victory. Had they held out, they would have remained only one point behind the Czech Republic with three games remaining.

Taken in isolation, the draw in Slovakia seems like a highly respectable result. However, in the circumstances, it was greeted with dismay as it effectively killed off Ireland's qualification chances. That the victory was tossed away after the concession of a late goal didn't help.

The subsequent 1-0 loss away to the Czech Republic extinguished the flickering flame but most supporters had long abandoned hope and were passed the point of disappointment.

Read more: The Forgotten Story Of Bobby Robson's Time With Ireland

 

Conor Neville
Article written by
Perennial finalist in stand-up comedy competitions and former Contract Lawyer/ Coal Salesman with Corless, Corless and Sweeney

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