A fever of adoration was burning in The Dunph’s eyes; he was smitten, drooling; he had fallen hard; he was Romeo on the night he first set eyes on Juliet. His voice was a strange, bass-baritone; he was Dr Love, Barry White with a Dublin accent.
Wes was his first, his last, his everything, baby. Liam Brady had a look that said ‘book a room for heaven’s sake Eamon’. Chippy urged his fellow panellist not to go overboard.
But Dunphy was too busy booking a honeymoon to listen. Love was making him dizzy. Eamo seemed to believe Ireland had won.
“We’ve never beaten a country ranked higher than us for X number of years – well now, that’s another landmark,” he gushed.
Eh, it was 1-1, Eamon.
Last Sunday, Ireland required a 90th-minute equaliser to snatch a draw at home to the world’s 34th best team in what pretty much every commentator had agreed before kick-off was a must-win game. The 14-year wait for a competitive victory over a serious football nation endures. Euro 2016 seems as far away as the planet Neptune. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
From Dunphy’s heart-all-a-flutter perspective, Ireland had announced themselves as the game’s new global force, Brazil 1970 meets Barca 2010. Messi and Ronaldo’s time was up; Wes was doing the Ballon d’Or shuffle.
Am I missing something here?
Ireland are fourth in Group D; among their remaining five fixtures (from which they might well require 13 points) are a trip to Poland and a visit from Germany; they host a buoyant Scottish team which shot down Martin O’Neill’s crew four months ago.
Michel Platini has expanded Euro 2016 to the point where just about any nation boasting 11 men who can reach double figures in keepy-uppy really should qualify. You could leave a team in the care of Steve Staunton and still be reasonably certain of advancing to next summer’s carnival.
Northern Ireland – led by a striker who plays for that well known superpower Caykur Rizespor – have one foot in France; Wales look set to reach the finals for the first time in 40 years. If your name is not Faroe Islands, it really is difficult not to qualify.
And yet Ireland were seconds from having the door slammed in their face last Sunday by opponents ranked below Ecuador and just ahead of the Cape Verde Islands.
Robbie Keane returned from his Tinseltown retirement home to confirm he merits a starting berth on an international football team as much as Miriam O’Callaghan.
James McCarthy performed as if intent on proving Liam Brady’s pre-match polemic that argued the Scottish-born midfielder’s heart is not in the Irish gig.
For the Polish goal, the Irish defence resembled Temple Bar at dusk on Paddy’s Day, a portrait of chaos; confused, green-uniformed creatures staggering aimlessly hither and thither, as coherent as four inflatable hammers. Martin O’Neill could have sent a tub of coleslaw on for Aiden McGeady and it would have improved the team.
As is now a national custom, Ireland only thought to begin playing after they had fallen behind. The first-half was largely a journey to downtown Grimsville. More than an hour had passed before Ireland managed a shot on target. Shane Long’s equaliser was the team’s first goal in three hours of competitive football.
Yet according to Dunphy this was the night Ireland “definitely proved that we can compete at this level”.
In fairness, there were positives: Ireland dominated the second half; Hoolahan was brave, cerebral, inventive, if never remotely justifying Dunphy’s “brilliant” tribute. James McClean brought instant menace, with his direct running and feisty personality; the Derry firebrand must start against the Scots.
Long’s goal kept Ireland from the gallows, but the feeling persists that it was a mere stay of execution.
Ireland have not beaten even a semi-serious opponent in a qualifier since Holland were filleted in 2001; yet to qualify they may well have to beat two in four months. Germany, Poland and Scotland and Ireland are the four teams vying to advance from Group D; Ireland alone of the quartet are without a victory over one of their rivals.
The team’s age profile is that of the clientele of a hair-transplant clinic: Six thirty-somethings; Ireland play Val Doonican tunes on the team-bus en route to games. Old ladies now help Keane cross the road.
To their credit Ireland ooze character. They don’t do lost causes. Four points have been snatched at the death courtesy of McGeady’s winner in Georgia, O’Shea’s equaliser against Germany and now Long’s timely intervention.
And Hoolahan provides creativity, is courageous in his willingness to take responsibility in a way that shames his peers, not least the £25m-rated McCarthy. Yet there is every chance Hoolahan, bizarrely labelled a “luxury player” by some commentators, will be benched for the return match.
Should that happen, Dunphy is likely to be spotted perched on some Polish grassy knoll, eye to the viewfinder of his sniper’s rifle, O’Neill in the crosshairs.
The hunch is by that stage the damage will be done and the Irish manager might not find the prospect of being put out of his misery uninviting.