Made in Stoke: goalscorer Glenn Whelan and clubmate, the impressive Liam Lawrence, celebrate after combining for Ireland’s spectacular opener against Italy at Croke Park last Saturday night. | Photo: Noel Browne-Waterford

Made in Stoke: goalscorer Glenn Whelan and clubmate, the impressive Liam Lawrence, celebrate after combining for Ireland’s spectacular opener against Italy at Croke Park last Saturday night. | Photo: Noel Browne-Waterford

Eamon Dunphy is so far past his prime as a misanthropist that it’s hard to recall when exactly he left punditry behind and entered the realm of parody.

I’d be inclined to call him the Jackie Healy-Rae of RTÉ, were it not for the fact that the Kerry political caricature only trousered over €240,000 of taxpayer’s money last year (including a €41,000 ‘special allowance’ dating back to the man Pee Flynn calls Taoiseach Bertie’s vote-buying after the ’97 general election). Eamo’s, for the want of a better word, “shameful” salary from the public service broadcaster came in somewhere around the €328,000 mark. Then again, Dunphy, unlike Jackie, doesn’t have two salaried assistants. Or maybe he does, Bill. Jealousy will get you nowhere, but sure you’d go cracked keeping all that bitter envy to yourself. And it’s not as if you can call Joe Duffy (€408K thank you) to complain about it.

The Dunph, one-time bane of ‘Official Ireland’, has been operating on both sides of every fence you can think of for ages now. The 63-year-old newly-wed used have his finger at least partially on the national pulse. When he was railing against Jack Charlton during Italia ’90 there was a certain constituency that concurred with his criticism of Ireland’s ‘percentages’ style of play, which, while successful, was arguably guilty of misusing a generation of Irish footballers.

Charlton’s backers, who were in the majority, at least to begin with, noted that Johnny Giles also had a collection of really good players during his time in charge of the Irish team and still couldn’t make a major finals. Ditto Eoin Hand. Jack’s happy-clappy ends justified the crude means.

For Dunphy to claim that last Saturday night’s performance against Italy was “a travesty”, “terrible” and that there were “real” football people “crying” in the stands in Croke Park – though I can imagine a few GAA heads were discomfited by the brilliant atmosphere; ‘International Rules’ it wasn’t – was another insult to viewers’ intelligence. Never mind the players who are unrecognisable from the rabble the previous regime routinely put out.

Where once he was just emotional, and sometimes tired too, Eamon’s ‘analysis’ is bordering on emotional wreckage these days. A question: would any of the Irish team get in the Italian side? Not in your dreams. Another question: would you let Dunphy within an ass’s roar of the Ireland technical area? Maybe. In your worst nightmare.

Ultra-conservative yes, but definitely not deluded, Trapattoni is, as Giles observes (as he does the differences in the hands dealt Giovanni and Jack) “his own man”; Italy being happy isolation from whatever media machinations might pertain over here.

If Giles was unlucky as Ireland boss, Trap is regarded as being the opposite, though with a bit more fortune we could have beaten his native country, the world champions remember, home and away.

The fact that Ireland will face tough opposition in the play-offs (Greece or Russia looking only slightly less daunting than France or Portugal; I can just see Ronaldo or Franck Ribéri taking on ‘Zinedine’ Kilbane in his 101st or 102nd appearance – fair play, Stephen Ireland he ain’t), isn’t a bad thing.

Ireland are traditionally better against the big fish than the small fry we may have landed had FIFA not exercised their option of fixing the seedings in the interests of filthy lucre.

Getting to the World Cup finals is the be all and end all for the FAI. After the Staunton debacle, John Delaney can’t afford any more expensive errors of judgment, especially with a shiny new 50,000-seater stadium to fill on a fairly regular basis from next year on.

While probably premature, the contract extension recently given to Trapattoni and his management team (even though Liam Brady seems to be biding his time, possibly to see how the current campaign pans out) was in one man’s gift and one man only.

No deal would have been done without Denis O’Brien’s say so. He’s paying half the Italians’ wages and the FAI executive would have been only too happy to hand the incumbents another couple of years on slightly ‘reduced’ terms (Trap being on €1.8m p.a. up to now) as long as the thorn in Tony O’Reilly’s side was amenable to upholding his end of the bargain.

All Delaney and co are concerned with for now is avoiding another embarrassing managerial trawl of the kind that followed the ‘mutual separation’ with the new boss of English basement-dwellers Darlington. For the reality is that until O’Brien came to the rescue the FAI were looking at a shortlist so sparse that the Faroe Islands probably had better options before Brian Kerr became an Eskimo.

If the play-offs don’t work out they’ll cross that costly bridge when they come to it. The quality of the football doesn’t really matter a damn – and it’s not all bad, with some genuine ingenuity in evidence the other evening. At least we’re competitive now, and considering the players we can call on at the present time, they’re punching well above their weight.

Andy Reid has tardily shed a lot of his, though he’s not exactly a ‘skinny little rat’ (Stephen Hunt’s straight-talking term for the double-talking Dunphy) just yet. But when it comes to the crunch, much and all as most people would like him to get a fairer crack of the whip, he’s barely a good player, and certainly not a great player. And his greatest champion – for now – is simply symptomatic of so much that’s wrong with this country: yet another grossly overpaid underperforming employee of the State.