Crucial match against Germany in Group D qualifier tonight after Scotland lost ground
8 October ~ After the 1-1 draw with Scotland at the Aviva Stadium in June (see WSC 342), the Republic of Ireland’s chances of qualifying for Euro 2016 appeared to be fairly bleak. They were in fourth place in the six-team group and, while that was only two points behind the Scots, the remaining fixtures seemed to favour Gordon Strachan’s side.
There was a boost in September, though, courtesy of Georgia. While they had only scored against Gibraltar since the 2-1 defeat to Ireland in the opening round, Valeri Kazaishvili scored the crucial goal as they beat Scotland 1-0 in Tbilisi and then four days later their resistance was broken when Jonathan Walters scored Ireland’s 69th-minute winner.
Scotland lost 3-2 at home to Germany the same night, meaning Ireland now hold a four-point cushion in third, though they must face the world champions tonight and then Poland away on Sunday. Scotland host the Poles tonight but will then be expected to run up a score away to Gibraltar, attaching huge significance to tonight’s game in the Aviva. And yet – it doesn’t appear to have seeped into the consciousness of the public at all, with the focus largely on the Rugby World Cup and Sunday’s pivotal game with France, the winners of which will avoid New Zealand in the quarter-finals.
The contrasting on-pitch fortunes between the rugby and football sides, as well a certain inverse snobbery, means that at international level the oval ball is now favoured among the social mainstream and on radio panel discussion shows. The Georgia game – effectively win or bust – attracted an official attendance of 27,100 but it looked to be even less than that. A Monday night and lack of attractive opposition can be cited as factors, but compare it to the full house when Italy visit in the Six Nations. That said, an appearance in France next summer would certainly do a lot to re-propel the original "boys in green" back to something approaching parity with the rugby team.
The biggest injury doubt is creative hub Wes Hoolahan, whose absence would deny Martin O’Neill a key ball-retaining presence in a side likely to be built to avoid conceding. Robbie Keane arrived late on Monday after his wife Claudine gave birth to their second son, but his namesake Roy made clear that it wouldn’t prevent him taking to the field. “He didn’t have the baby, did he? Unless he’s breast-feeding, he should be alright,” the assistant manager wisecracked, but it should be pointed out it was delivered in a more pleasant manner than some of this famous barbs.
That Robbie replied by saying “[Roy] has bigger tits than me” is indicative of a harmony and positive atmosphere in the camp. Whether that will suffice in a team where Derby County are likely to have more players (Cyrus Christie, Jeff Hendrick and Richard Keogh) than anyone else remains to be seen. Denis Hurley