It’s hard to know where to start, really.
Although a particular highlight was that heated half-time debate about tennis balls, with Stephen Kelly. stuck in between the men either side of the net, Damien Duff and Richie Sadlier, like an umpire with a pain in his neck from trying to keep track of a lengthy rally featuring rasping volleys, deft lobs and dipping backhands.
All we needed was for Darragh Maloney to find his inner Dan Maskell and declare, “ooh I say!”
After the mind-numbing tedium that was 2018 for Irish football watchers, we had ourselves what was, quite possibly, the greatest show on earth.
Indeed, there was a little spell in the first half when Glenn Whelan was playing like the old Andres Iniesta and Jeff Hendrick like the new Declan Rice and lest we’d forgotten – which we probably had after the 2018 that was in it – it was a tremendously pleasant reminder that there’s no law against Ireland actually playing rather lovely football.
And all the while we could hear Mick’s bellowing from the touchline, like he’d never gone away, and a section of the crowd somewhat fruitily suggesting that the FAI’s newly appointed Executive Vice President should vacate his position.
And then the Aviva pitch was peppered with tennis balls, rendering Ronnie Whelan incandescent.
“RIDICULOUS, COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS!”
George Hamilton was no less peeved, reckoning the sports shops of Dublin had been rifled of their tennis balls, but both men’s annoyance was somewhat eased when Conor Hourihane inserted the ball in to the back of Georgia’s net immediately after the pitch had been cleared of said balls from another code. Those of you who hollered 15-love to Ireland should be ashamed.
It was mighty stuff, the entertainment levels stratospheric.
Darragh and Duffer, no more than George and Ronnie, reckoned the tennis ball chuckers were pillocks [we’re paraphrasing here], but Richie was having none of it.
“These fans are angry and disillusioned for very legitimate reasons … and they feel if there is no meaningful change in the FAI at executive level and how it does its business they will continue to feel this way … it’s a sign of how upset they are, how disgruntled they are that they would show up here and do that.”
Duffer, though, found his inner Ronnie: “RIDICULOUS!”
“They nearly scored near the end, that’s three minutes in – there were four minutes added on because of the tennis balls. For me, Georgia nearly scored because of our CEO!”
“The build-up tonight for the beautiful game was not about football, it was about John Delaney” Duffer continued. “Utter nonsense. Second half, if more balls come on, it’s still 1-0, is time going to get added on because of tennis balls? Something has to give somewhere. But utter nonsense from the fans for me. Protest somewhere else.”
Richie, though, noted that if you protested in, say, your back garden by throwing tennis balls about the place, it wouldn’t garner a great deal of attention, apart, maybe, from neighbours concerned about your state of mind.
“The impact of protesting anywhere else won’t be the same, there’s a reason they do it here because the country is watching,” he said.
“But it nearly cost us,” Duffer countered, “those four minutes were added on because of JOHN DELANEY AND THE TENNIS BALLS!”
Stephen maintained his silence on the issue, and to be honest, silence was all we could muster on setting eyes on his suit. It was probably similar to what Andre Agassi wore to the Winner’s Ball at Wimbledon in 1992.
“Will there be more tennis balls in the second half, do you think,” Darragh asked Richie, like Richie was the Executive Vice President of the tennis-ball-chucking campaign. “We’ll wait and see,” he replied, so, strewth, maybe he was.
The egg-on-face award for the night went to Tony O’Donoghue. “I don’t think we’re likely to see too many tennis balls on the pitch,” he had promised Darragh, although Ronnie actually counted the balls and reckoned there were only around 70, so he concluded that only a teeny amount of the crowd were irksome agitators looking for Irish football to be run a little bit better.
“There is a sense of renewed energy amongst the supporters as we start in to this qualifying campaign…”, the ex-CEO wrote in the match programme.
True. They spent a good part of the evening energetically singing “Stand up for Delaney out”. ‘New balls, please’?
The match? Ooh I say, we won!