IT WAS coming up to midnight in Vienna, an hour after the football ended, when the game of poker began.
Knowing his hand has weakened, Giovanni Trapattoni decided to take the joker from up his sleeve. The campaign may be over and a regime change is inevitable but there is a bit of business still to attend to.
“I’m not resigning,” said Trap. “And if I was in John Delaney’s shoes, I’d stick by me. My contract runs to May. So …”
The words hung in the air. His time was up but his contract was not.
“I’ve done a good job here,” Trap claimed. “I have qualified for one tournament, got to a play-off in another, and reformed the team after the Euros. We are moving in the right direction.”
Yet as soon as Trap finished his sentence, the FAI were moving in another direction.Trap’s scheduled press conference had been cancelled and a board meeting called.
“We will consider the current position,” said the FAI in a statement. By this morning they had brought an end to the most bizarre and colourful reign in the history of Irish football.
He won’t be missed. From the word go, Trap treated the Ireland job as a part-time one, reluctant to attend games, even less prepared to alter his style of play and downright lazy when it came to learning the language. In-actions spoke louder than words.
Still, where once there was chaos under Steve Staunton, Trap provided order.
There was that successful first campaign which ended in tears and anger in Paris and then the fortunate second one, when a 24-year-gap was bridged and the European Championship finals reached. Yet Poland was a disaster and Trap should have resigned after it.
Instead, he clung on. Too costly to sack, we have stumbled through this campaign without rhyme nor reason, claiming 11 points from eight games, nine of those coming against Kazakhstan and the Faroes. When pitted against heavier hitters, the team didn’t have enough ideas. And nor did Trap.
So this was why we ended up in Vienna last night writing an obituary only to find in the opening half hour of the game that the corpse still had a pulse. Ireland, dressed in black to add to the funereal atmosphere, needed to get up off their World Cup deathbed and secure a win.
It was always going to be a long shot but it was the reluctance of Shane Long to take shots – arriving seconds too late to get on the end of first half crosses from Jon Walters and Robbie Keane which proved vital.
What this team needed was a goal and momentum. They seemed likelier to get it than Austria in this opening half hour, Anthony Pilkington finding the side-netting, before the tide turned.
David Alaba effected the sea change, relentlessly driving Austria forward, banging in a pair of shots in the closing 10 minutes of the first half, one of them saved by David Forde, the other blocked by Richard Dunne, prior to Forde doing a job on Martin Hanrik’s rebound.
Ireland’s job was getting harder as time ran on, though. The energy, so apparent in the early stages, was beginning to sap. Alaba, though, never gave in. He put in a workman’s shift but married craft with graft.
Eventually his would be the goal that would win it, being at the right place at the right time as the quartet of Irish defenders, full-backs, Coleman and Wilson, centre backs, Dunne and Clark, didn’t cover themselves in glory in their attempts to keep it out.
And that was that.
Once behind, there seemed no way Ireland would come back. The manager, paid the big bucks to make shrewd decisions, simply didn’t have a back-up plan to turn to. Let’s hope the FAI do.