What is it about hands and Ireland in play-offs? Back in the early 80s, Ireland narrowly lost out to France on goal difference the qualifying campaign for the 1982 World Cup. The Irish conceded a late goal to Belgium after having what most commentators described as a ‘perfectly good goal’ disallowed. The manager of the Irish team at that time was Eoin Hand and the image of him with his head in his hands at the post-match press conference was widely shown all over Europe. The photographs are without doubt one of the most heartbreaking images of a football manager after being “robbed” and the chance of a place in the finals were taken away.
Last week, almost 30 years after the Belgium game, here we are again complaining and crying about another injustice and again it is France who will dine at the top table and we will be left to stumble around and seek crumbs from some place other than the dining hall where the elite will gather.
Eoin Hand departed as manager after failing to qualify for the 1986 World Cup and he was replaced by Jack Charlton. Another hand, this time the left hand of Thierry Henry, has put an end to the dreams of a football feast in South Africa for the Irish players and supporters. The two most powerful men in football, FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini, have got their wish fulfilled and following the play-off games France and Portugal have booked their plane tickets for World Cup 2010.
Their master plan of changing the ‘open draw’ and instead seeding the remaining countries has worked a treat – for them. FIFA changed the rules at five minutes to midnight and as a result the Irish players will now enjoy the sea and sand of exotic sun spots in the summer instead.
At this stage we all know what unfolded during the days after last Wednesday’s match at the Stade de France. Everyone from John Delaney to Brian Cowen, to Minister for Sport Martin Cullen to Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, jumped up and down and demanded another game. FIFA needless to say ignored their begging letters. Well they would.
Mass hysteria broke out in Ireland and such things as horrendous flooding and a bankrupt and badly-run country were forgotten.
O’Shea and McShane
All football lovers in Ireland were stunned by the manner of Ireland’s exit, but since Adam was a little boy referees have being making mistakes, and they will do until the god lord calls blows the full-time whistle on all of us here on earth.
It was never going to happen that a replay was going to be organised and rightly so. We here in Waterford have been the victims of dreadful decisions by officials in recent years. Back in 2004, the Blues lost to Longford Town in the FAI Cup final at Lansdowne Road. It has gone down in folklore as the ‘two balls final’. A ball was thrown on to the field and some of the Waterford United defenders stopped and that gave Longford the opportunity to knock the ‘official’ ball into the back of the net. The goal changed the entire course of the match and as we know the Midlanders went on to win the cup. Protests to the FAI fell on deaf ears.
A few short weeks ago Waterford United once again lost a final, this time the EA Sports Cup final due mainly to one of the worst displays of refereeing ever seen in this country in my view. The Waterford United club did not protest on this occasion because it would have proved to be a complete waste of time.
Roy Keane cut lose last Friday at an Ipswich Town press conference when he was asked about the events in Paris and he used the occasion to let fly at John Delaney and bring up the entire Saipan fiasco of seven years ago.
“Ireland got a penalty against Georgia in February and it was one of the worst decisions I have ever seen and it changed the whole course of the game. I don’t remember the FAI saying after the game that we should give Georgia a replay,” he observed.
Needless to say Keane’s comments caused uproar on national radio and in many ways his remarks were unnecessary and badly timed as open wounds had far from healed following the controversial contest in Paris.
However, the Corkman did hit on something which somehow got lost completely in the post-match debates. “Ireland had their chances in the two games but they never took them. When Henry got on the ball my focus would have been on the ball and why they did not clear it. How can you let Thierry Henry get goal-side of you,” he said.
Keane also made comments about goalkeeper Shay Given which were uncalled for, but he had a point about the defence. Apart from the chances wasted by Damien Duff and Robbie Keane in the second leg, there was one pivotal moment in the game.
Irish hearts sank (and especially in Waterford) when John O’Shea waved to the bench and made it known that he would be unable to carry on. He was replaced after 66 minutes at right full-back by the Hull City player Paul McShane and many of us got a terrible feeling that something horrible would happen afterwards, and of course our worst fears were realised in the 103rd minute.
It is worth noting that McShane was one of the first players Roy Keane signed when he was the manager of Sunderland. Bacary Sagna’s deep free kick displayed the fact that McShane is hopelessly out of his depth on the international stage and his dreadful defending gave Henry the chance to display handling skills that would put Waterford dual star Gary Hurney to shame.
The game also showed that the majority of the players chosen by Trapattoni were capable of much better than we all thought when given the opportunity to express themselves. Unfortunately for almost the entire campaign they were not allowed unlock the shackles imposed by the manager.
The World Cup qualifying games have been frustrating to say the least from an Irish point of view. We should look at the bigger picture and not just Thierry Henry and his ‘hand of a rascal’ (as the late Sir Bobby Robson described Maradona’s goal against England in 1986). Hopefully Trapattoni and his coaching staff will give the players their head when it comes to trying to qualify for the European Championships in 2012.
Que sea sera. As Roy Keane said last week, it’s time to get over it and move on.