Irony is... Thierry Henry, one of the faces of Pepsi’s new anti-obesity campaign. Maradona? Who’d have thought it eh?

Irony is... Thierry Henry, one of the faces of Pepsi’s new anti-obesity campaign. Maradona? Who’d have thought it eh?

RTÉ’s coverage had ended, and the post-mortem had started on ‘You’re On Sky Sports’. Enough, I thought, and flicked through the satellite channels, hoping to take my mind off what yer man Terry Henry had done, the big bolleaux.

Scrolling through the movies menu one film jumped out: ‘Forget Paris’, the fairly unmemorable Billy Crystal ‘rom com’. Will we bloody ever.

Not even any of the Waterford hurlers’ championship disappointments left me feeling so sick. I can recall some real hard luck stories (the ’98 and ’06 All-Ireland semi-finals for instance) but never were we cheated. That was the killer.

Liam Brady, who was bought and then sold by Giovanni Trapattoni to make way for Michel Platini at Juventus all those years ago, spoke for all those who love the supposedly ‘beautiful game’ when he said the morning after the night before: “Where is football going if a team is cheated out of fair play? Where are we going if this decision stands?”

It remains a rhetorical question. Just like the rhetoric John Delaney referred to when vainly asking FIFA and the French Football Federation to “step up to the plate” and practice what they preach by granting a rematch. Realistically there was more chance of the bould Thierry fronting an advertising campaign for Bord Bia supporting the slogan ‘Guaranteed Irish tough cheese and sour grapes.’

While technically within their rights, for FIFA to have seeded the play-offs draw was bad enough – and the players, including fantastic 41-goal captain Robbie Keane (‘There’s only one Keano’ indeed), vented their real feelings about that travesty in the aftermath – but the silence from Sepp Blatter in his Swiss Ivory Tower only served to fuel the conspiracy theories, however far-fetched.

It must be said, mind, that the culture ingrained in professional football did the protagonists and agitators no favours. The players on both sides pinned the blame on the referee and his assistants and FIFA, while the latter fingered the match officials.

Coldly calling a fellow pro, particularly one held in a certain amount of awe, a cheat, is simply not the done thing, nor the Dunne thing. I, like many, Eric Cantona included, wondered how Richard sat there while Henry cosied up beside him afterwards: launching phase one of his PR strategy.

If his actions in midweek were “instinctive”, Henry’s tardy declaration on Friday that a replay would be the fairest solution, albeit one outside his control, was cynical in the extreme; as transparent a damage limitation exercise as his subsequent admission that he even contemplated international retirement. Martyrs carry crosses, they don’t merely handle them.

Blame game

 Personally I find it hard to heap too much blame on the match officials. Other than that one incident the referee was excellent, rightly ignoring Anelka’s penalty appeal, while the linesman who missed both the two offsides and handballs (which took place a fair distance away) had correctly called Govou’s disallowed goal minutes earlier. As for everyone immediately knowing what Henry had done except those in charge, come again? No-one watching had a clue for several seconds, with George Hamilton even declaring an OG by Paul McShane initially. They should have done, but the officials didn’t have the benefit of hindsight.

 Smooth operator

 As Pádraig Harrington said from Dubai, “the celebration of the cheating was particularly galling”, even if Damien Duff said he’d have ‘chanced his arm’ (no pun intended) at the other end.

In other sports integrity counts for something – where the means, rather than the mean, justify the end. Harrington has held his hands up in the past (someone call the pun police – Ed) for as trivial and innocent a mistake as not signing his card properly. It’s “a different culture,” he shrugged. One wonders what Tiger Woods, another Gillette ambassador, would make of Henry, who’s possibly found it harder to look in his shaving mirror this past week. 

Little Britain? 

How many times have we mocked the English for creating the sort of “commotion” Roy Keane commented so wryly upon. Only in Ireland could the entire country come to a standstill over a question of sport. In the UK it took the death of a Princess.

As the dust slowly begins to settle on last week’s near-diplomatic incident (and the French have nukes remember), it’s opportune to reflect on the solidarity the Irish cause was shown across the water, with almost every media outlet and commentator of note backing the Republic to the hilt.

The Guardian’s Barney Ronay told Tom Dunne on ‘Newstalk’ that, whether we liked it or not, England have adopted Ireland as their ‘second team’ ever since the 1994 World Cup when they failed to qualify and the BBC became the default ‘Big Jack’ channel. Dunne gently pointed out that such neighbourliness has never been quite reciprocated on this side of the Irish Sea, with the mere sight of 11 men in white, lion-embroidered shirts prompting the most latent racism in mild-mannered individuals.

When Diego Maradona punched England where it hurts in 1986 we celebrated here as if we were the very sons and daughters of Evita Perón. Before and since we’ve made wishing English football teams the very worst of luck a national pastime every second summer, marking their myriad misfortunes with raised glasses and jeers. Who was it that said what goes around comes around?

 Injustice can inspire 

As performances go I’d never have predicted what was by any yardstick the best display from an Irish team since drawing with finalists Russia at Euro 88.

Post-match the RTÉ panel raised some valid points. This is a team that can do well at, never mind just reach, the 2012 European Championships – even if the crazy FIFA rankings system (which has placed us 36th and France 7th; talk about adding insult to injury) will make the qualification task harder for several years yet.

The penny has hopefully dropped with Trap tactics-wise, and if he can get over his antipathy towards Andy Reid (at least try him in a few friendlies) and seek out positive additions to the squad, however tenuous their eligibility, then the future looks bright.

One midfielder who is unlikely to feature is Cardiff City captain Stephen McPhail, who has been diagnosed with cancer at the age of 29. A chink of perspective at the end of a bleak but ultimately hopeful week.

 It seems there’s no ceiling to Roy Keane’s scorn for the FAI and – more unforgivably – Shay Given.

Rather then Henry, the former Ireland captain blamed the Irish defenders and goalkeeper for allowing the ball to bounce in the six-yard box in the first place; he might have had a point but as usual it wasn’t what he said but the way he said it.

Keane’s preferred currency is candour, but the emphasis always seems to be on the brutal as much as the honesty.

The Corkman, of course, has criticised Given in the past for being obsessed with increasing his caps count, as if that was some sort of sin.

John Delaney also got it with both barrels, with Keane, clearly oblivious to his own inability to ‘get over’ Saipan, saying the then treasurer did sweet FAI to try and heal things when Roy raised hell in the Pacific. “He couldn’t find me?! Try ringing my hotel room.” He probably considered it, then thought twice. Who wouldn’t.

Keane felt sorry for Trapattoni and “most of” the players – while kindly questioning their mental strength – but “what goes around comes around” as far as the FAI is concerned. One would have thought Roy might be more wary of that old adage. As Delaney said, it was sad to see.