I shan’t spend too long talking about the rugby, it’s still a bit soon. The emotional scars are still a bit too fresh and the sadness that followed that ridiculously early rugby match in Wellington’s “Cake Tin” still lingers on. At 8.00am last Saturday morning, I sat in The Woolshed on Parnell St. as shocked and stunned as a kid who had just been told that the Toy Show had been cancelled for this year. My sadness then swiftly turned towards the actual players involved. We will never see Paul O’Connell, pilule Brian O’Driscoll or Ronan O’Gara play at another World Cup. A group of players who have conquered Europe at both club and country level will never conquer the world. What an absolute tragedy for these players who truly deserved a great World Cup. Sport doesn’t work that way I suppose.
In better news, the Irish football team look to be extremely close to finally getting back to dine at the table of the big boys in a major tournament. A reasonably comfortable, if perhaps sometimes uninspiring 2-1 victory over an improving Armenian side means we are but two matches away from our first European Championships in 24 years. However, according to Giles the Wise and Confucius Dunphy, the most wise and noble men of the land, we should be embarrassed. Seemingly RTE like hiring people as analysts who live in an alternate universe from the rest of us. The most damaging thing is that Pat Spillane, George Hook and Eamon Dunphy actually have some followers behind their deluded musings. Both Dunphy and Giles were furious with Trapattoni’s inclusion of Simon Cox against the Armenians last Tuesday. Who ended up winning the man of the match award?
Dunphy followed this up with an outlandish statement that Ireland were not going to qualify from the play-offs. Not alone had the draw not been made when he said this, but we didn’t even know what teams were going to be involved in the draw at that stage or whether we would be seeded or not. It’s time RTE realised that such constant sensationalist nonsense should not be tolerated. Fair and unbiased sports analysis is possible, and it can even be entertaining. The sooner RTE weeds out these “characters” of their respective sports and replace them with people who can actually take each team and each game on its merits (if you’ll excuse my Gilesism), the better for all of us.
So, Estonia, eh? What do we know about them? Well, according to visitestonia.com, there a very few traffic jams in Tallinn, the Estonian language is a nightmare to learn, Tallinn is this year’s European City of Culture and you can eat marinated bear there. It sounds great, and yours truly couldn’t spend 360 of my well-earned euros to be there in a month’s time quickly enough. In terms of sports, the Estonians love a good cross-country ski, track and field and basketball. Oh, and they like football apparently, even though their national stadium, the hilariously named A. Le Coq Arena, only holds 10,000 people and is rarely filled to capacity.
What are their football team like then? Well, I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Brian Kerr’s Faroe Islands managed to beat them at home in the Faroes in what was their first victory in a qualifier since 1995. The Faroese should have had a famous victory in Tallinn too, as it took two last gasp goals from Raio Piiroja and Kaimar Saag to stop the streets of Tallinn from being torn apart by furious Estonian football fans. Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration, they don’t really seem to care that much. But, before we get all John Delaney about this and start booking our flights to Poland and Ukraine for next summer, it is worth noting that our new Baltic enemies did beat Serbia and Slovenia away from home. Not to be scoffed at, it would seem.
Nonetheless, Ireland should beat Estonia for a number of reasons, but here are a few. Firstly, Trap will have no choice but to actually play young, in-form strikers in Tallinn as he chooses between Shane Long, Jonathan Walters and Simon Cox. It’ll be refreshing to see Robbie Keane excluded from the team sheet, allbeit about two years overdue, and Kevin Doyle unfortunately seemed to be more of a nuisance to us against Armenia than he was against his opponents. Secondly, our defence is fairly solid. You don’t get eight clean sheets in a row without having a fairly well organised, if perhaps slightly overly rigid defence. And lastly, Estonia made a man who spent his time between 2003 and 2005 supposedly managing the Republic of Ireland football team, but who preferred to be seen wandering around Lansdowne Road at a quick pace with a clipboard in hand pretending to be going somewhere or doing something look like a freakin tactical genius. Maybe we should get Brian Kerr back in some capacity for these play-off ties. Or maybe not.