Sport

ROY CURTIS: Tonight's win is the most significant victory since the Dutch were undone 14 years ago

SportBy Roy Curtis
Long scored a famous Irish winner
Long scored a famous Irish winner

MARTIN O’Neill had insisted he would not place ambition under house-arrest, that wit and imagination would not be designated as indictable offences.

Roy Keane spoke of a six-point mission, of looking Germany and Poland in the eye and not feeling even a pinprick of inferiority.

Shane Long and Wes Hoolahan, mercifully, took their commanders at their word.

Against the finest football force on earth, Long and Hoolahan choreographed a beautiful ballet called Hope.   

They were time-lords transporting Irish football back to another heady, more innocent time; they were mixologists serving a giddy cocktail called delirium.

It is difficult to overstate the life-affirming, era-changing downdraft of this night:  Irish football has climbed out of the casket, is reborn.

Over a seismic, divine 90 minutes, the ghosts of the old Lansdowne Road filled the new arena.  This was the night the Aviva found both its voice and its soul.

It is true that Ireland rode their luck outrageously, that at times there was a Rorke’s Drift feel to the Teutonic siege;  that O’Neill could have uniformed 11 felines in green shirts and not have expected them to use up as many lives.

But, heck, their ambition, their courage merited easily the most significant victory since Louis Van Gaal’s Dutch were famously undone 14 years ago.

Long’s goal, a triumph of pace and craving, a laser strike that reduced the world’s greatest goalkeeper to a helpless bystander was the banquet of glory a malnourished nation could scarcely believe they were feasting upon.

And if there was defensive heroism, if Robbie Brady again hinted at what he might yet become, the fingerprints of one man were all over this shining, heavenly evening.

If Hoolahan is no more physically imposing than a fountain pen, he is equally as adept at producing gorgeous, heart-soaring calligraphy.

Wes decorates any contest that he is permitted to make his canvass in a vibrant mosaic of rich, vivid, fearless brushstrokes.  Nights like this offer the most damning verdict on the monochrome world view, the Latin conservatism which compelled Giovanni Trapattoni to allow Hoolahan’s technicolour talents gather dust.

The little playmaker has stitched a deep pile carpet of optimism out of a tattered, threadbare dream.

True, Poland’s goal in the dying embers of the Glasgow conflagration delivered a huge, gaping wound to Ireland’s prospects of automatic qualification.

And yet it is not only those with ocean-deep pockets or a gambling dependence who will be tempted to take a punt on O’Neill’s side securing the victory they require to avoid the roundabout route of a playoff.

Because players like Hoolahan are a powerful antidote against despair.

His inventive DNA is a might counter-current to the undertow of despair that has sucked Ireland under for so long, that screams that the nation might join Iceland, Wales and Northern Ireland in France next summer.

No longer are O’Neill’s side doomed for the Siberia of a fourth-place finish.   

And on a proud night, perhaps the most uplifting statistic – other than the result of course – is that Hoolahan would not have looked remotely out of place had he been handed a white German shirt.

He brings an artist’s imagination, the fearlessness of a card-shark, the courage of a player who is unafraid to fail.

His every flourish speaks of an old-world conviction about how the game should be played.

To think now of the scandal of Trapattoni’s exiling of the Norwich sorcerer, Ireland reduced to creative wasteland, a tundra of daring, a wilderness of hope while the little man’s magic wand was wilfully decommissioned.

But on a feel good night, as Ballsbridge shook with an ecstatic sense of achievement, there was no reason to linger on the past.

O’Neill and his team served Ireland what they have craved for so long:  A reason to look forward with hope.

The priceless gift came from Shane and Wes, they bequeathed the nation an indelible memory, a miracle and as the Aviva palpitated with joy, that was the unforgettable Long and short of it.


Player Ratings

Shay Given- Struggled to direct his kick-outs to Irish players. Maybe that knee was bothering him all the time. 6

Cyrus Christie- Struggled at times as the opposition targeted his inexperience. Seamus Coleman will be welcomed back for Sunday. 6

John O'Shea- The Sunderland man was solid all through, just as he has been in every game of the campaign so far. 8

Richard Keogh- A few nervy clearances from the centre-half were understandable as Keogh was pitched into this massive match. 6

Stephen Ward- A shock choice in the Irish defence, and Germany went after the Burnley left-back for the whole game, but he stood firm. 7

James McCarthy- Everton and Ireland's midfielder put himself about a bit as he sought to halt Germany's advances.7

Jeff Hendrick- Beginning to blossom as an international footballer, Hendrick is certainly a building block for the future. 7

Robbie Brady- Worked hard for the whole game up and down the wing. Sacrificed a bit going forward for his defensive duties. 8

Wes Hoolahan- The one Irish player who, for touch and technique, would have been at home on the German team. 9

Daryl Murphy- Asked to move between a lone attacker and playing wide in midfield and did the job as best he could. 7

Jon Walters- Another immense shift from the Stoke player who worked hard all night for little reward in the way of a decent pass. 8

Subs- Darren Randolph- Two great saves when pressed into service in the second half 7

Shane Long- A goal that everyone will remember forever. What a finish past the best goalkeeper in the world. 8


GERMANY

Manuel Neuer-  Not even the brilliant Neuer could keep out keep out shane Long's great finish. 7

Matthias Ginter- Tried to get forward from full-back, but there was not a lot of end product. 6

Mats Hummels- Had a quiet night as Ireland rarely attacked, but was beaten by Long's pace for the goal. 6

Jerome Boateng- Marked absent when needed at the heart of Germany's defence. One piledriver of a shot in the second half. 6

Jonas Hector- Like Ginter on the other side, the German full-back found the Irish defence unyielding. 6

Marco Reus- There were times when he threatened to win the game for Germany on his own. 8

Mezut Ozil- A stride offside for one goal and missed a great chance for another. 6

Toni Kroos- Like Reus, Kroos could have carved Ireland apart - somehow he never did. 7

Ilkay Gundogan- The least impressive of the German midfield on the night. 5

Thomas Muller- How did this brilliant player miss that second half chance from 12 yards. 7

Mario Gotze- Had to go off injured in the first half, having threatened Ireland. 6

Subs- Andre Schurrle- He too missed a great opportunity for the goal Germany needed. 7

Kevin Volland- Made no impact when he came on in the second half.