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A Night Of Bravery, Heart, Leadership, And Heroes In Cardiff

A Night Of Bravery, Heart, Leadership, And Heroes In Cardiff
By Gavin Cooney
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Great, glorious football.

It proved to be One Of Those Nights. Few Irish managers will leave a legacy quite like Martin O'Neill, who continues to trade in football's most valuable currency: memories. Another one for the pantheon: Cardiff, and James McClean.

It was a 1-0 win that betrayed all that's great and less so about Irish football. In a scrappy, antic game, for which Ireland were partly at fault, they provided the game's one true moment of class.

The goal was the ultimate sucker-punch for Wales: having spent 55 minutes trying to bludgeon their way through the Wales defence, Ireland decided to pick the lock. Jeff Hendrick chased a ball along the sideline, and Harry Arter fooled everyone except James McClean, who guided the ball past Hennessy. McClean sprinted to the Irish fans, beating his chest and kissing the crest in a kind of elated stupor: Ireland scored with virtually their first move of any substance.

And it was enough, as from there those innate Irish characteristics took over. Ireland had heroes all over the park. Shane Duffy was a colossus, hacking clear virtually everything that came near him, with he and Ciaran Clark leaving Darren Randolph a virtual spectator. McClean will take the headlines, but this was a game and occasion to vindicate Harry Arter.

The Bournemouth midfielder has endured unimaginable torment off the field over the last couple of years, and proved to be one of the fall-guys for a Georgia game we can now treat with the humour of a brief, meaningless aberration.

Here, he added the moment of guile to Ireland's grunt, but proved to have plenty of the latter. Within seconds of the restart, he executed one of the cleanest sliding tackles this side of Franco Baresi. He, Hendrick, and Meyler were superb in Ireland's midfield. With the scheming trio of Allen, Ramsey, and Lawrence dropping into pockets of spaces in front of the Irish defence, O'Neill gummed up the middle with the scuttling midfield trio.


Arter eventually left after 77 minutes with cramp, having been urged to drop to the floor by O'Neill.


By then, Ireland were thriving in the need to survive, with white shirts taking it in turn to throw themselves of any dream-shattering bullets. Duffy, Clark, Meyler, Brady, Hendrick, Whelan, Ward, Christie, Randolph. They all stood up.

Duffy showed his leadership, constantly beseeching teammates, unafraid of a bollocking for when it called. It was telling that Roy Keane chose to communicate more with him that any other Irish player from the bench.


Half-time was spent uttering sedition at O'Neill, with Hoolahan on the bench and Ireland treating the football with suspicion; a thing suitable only to graze on Murphy's head. But this was Ireland spoiling the occasion, and they did so deadeningly well.

The atmosphere beforehand was bone-shakingly, teeth-achingly loud. Stands sloshed red rose in unison to finish the national anthem acapella, this time deliberately doing what came spontaneously because of a PA failure in Tbilisi last Friday. The Irish fans coralled in the corner, sporting more rudimentary BELIEVE flags, responded with a heroic rendition of Stand Up For You Boys In Green that melted in response.

But Ireland quelled the thunder from the stands, and after an encouraging start, Wales offered virtually nothing on the ball after the departure of Joe Allen to injury.


The pre-match programme here did an A-Z of Irish football, and filed 'H' under handball. If they repeat the trick for Ireland's next visit to Cardiff, they can replace Henry with 'hurt'.

Ultimately, in a scrappy, antic game, Ireland supplied the one true moment of quality.

Ireland may knock the ball high and long, and often it is ineffective, but tonight they have written dreams across the Cardiff night sky.


One of those nights.

SEE ALSO: The Ireland Player Ratings From A Bloody Heroic Peformance In Cardiff

SEE ALSO: Watch: Absolute Scenes As Irish Players Celebrate Incredible Win In Wales

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