The game started with a nervy and unfocused eleven minutes, with the result being a 1 nil scoreline thanks to some part time defending from Ciaran Clark. From there things changed, the temperature dropped and it seemed Austria would continue the abysmal home form under Trap. But like the snowy spring conditions, this wasn't the Ireland we knew and back came the confidence.
Conor Sammon was playing in the pocket, barreling around like someone stole his wallet, ignoring the ball in order to throw his body at anyone and everyone. There were signs that this younger Irish team wasn't for lying down, for giving up, fight they had and more. The goal came after a quick Irish free kick at right angle of the Austrian's box, it somehow ended up leading to a chance at the other end, but then suddenly Sammon was jumping straight up in the air, acting as a wall, a bumper for the rest of the team.
Rebounding the ball off the target-man led to a pinging pass down the line to Long who fooled us all and the Austrian Pogatetz by feigning to cross and the big West Ham defender rsvp'd in spades, sending Long on his way off the pitch like a jockey departing a horse. Up stepped Walters, our regular penalty taker was in the crowd chatting with his cousin Morrissey about reinvention, and we were level.
Confidence breeds confidence and soon the whole team were nicking in front of each ball, making every tackle and harrying every man. Shane Long tried a back-heel, it scurried towards the goal, meeting the post flush as the crowd sighed and sighed again as the replays were shown, theses were footballing sounds, echos of real quality. And soon we were ahead, McClean was getting his crosses in and remembered how to take a corner. Walters put everything Stoke into a back post header, Tony Pulis cries were heard in the East Stand.
As the whistle was blown Eamonn Dunphy decided to let Liam speak first, Trap had got it right it seemed. The panel were happy, they talked about how Sammon was playing the bruiser role in the Zola position quite well, had Trapattoni stumbled upon a brand new tactical position, would the Sammon become tomorrow's Makelele. The answer to that question was always going to be no but the result, the second half would decide.
The incredible thing about the second half was that it seemed twice as long as the first, Sammon started to take the appearance of man running up stairs, only to get to each landing and realise he had still more to climb. Long continued to stand out, finding nothing and replacing it with something. The Austrians made some changes, bringing on their own Sammon in Janko, who made himself a nuisance to both sides.
The closing down and pressure had taken its toll and the silky moves turned into silly errors and mistakes. The tiredness swept through the team and the backup was sprung from the bench. Paul Green marched from under Tardelli's jacket with the air of a man who had no longer something to prove, Wes Hoolahan never appeared on my screen, erased from our minds as if we might forget, but Eamonn would remind us later, again and again.
The team started to believe that the three points were ours and so did we, we even had the odd chance, and we had started to play the ball into the corner. But two minutes into injury time, we all joined the eleven on the pitch in raising our hands in unison to rest in a well known position, the crown of our heads. We weren't thinking of Brazil just yet, it wasn't that assured, composed or confident in the second half, but we were deserved it, didn't we. The new Three mobile ad sounded around the stadium, the solemn voiceover sound-tracking the tone perfectly.
The Munich player we had heard so much about, had taken our ball, our hopes and dreams and left us with our heads bowed and nervous of what was coming next. Bill eased us into it, Dreams dashed, Brazil over. Brady looked under pressure, knowing what was coming his way. Hoolahan's name was mentioned at the beginning and end of each sentence, you could sense Liam was going to burst and burst he did. Tony O'Donoghue wasn't there to defend himself, he was pitchside with Trap, talking English/Italian and German. Everything was mixed up, everyone was angry and that was that, RTE had scheduled Mission Impossible after Friday's Sweden game, this time it was the trashy American soap called Revenge, it didn't make sense. Perhaps it will in the morning.
Photo via Jill O'Herlihy