1 April 2004
Ireland v Czech Republic, March 31 2004 (2-1)
Where do I start ???? Tonight at Lansdowne, myself and 42,000 other fortunates witnessed an absolutely enthralling & thoroughly entertaining game of football. An Irish performance full of grit, determination, speed & skill that finally eased any lingering doubts that I had about our ability to be a real force in International football. Those of you who know me & who read these little reports every now and again, will probably realise that I like nothing more than a good moan & whinge when things arenít going well on the pitch. I suppose no football fan will ever be truly happy with his (or her) teams performance, but tonight I left Lansdowne after seeing that things were as good as I dared hope they could be.
The back four were tight and compact with Doherty playing particularly well in his first International as a centre half. Cunningham was his usual reliable self, Maybury did a lot of good things at right back and Ian Harte had the game of his life at left back. Iím not back-tracking (yet) over my previous comments on my new pal as Iím sure that this must have been some sort of aberration. However, were he to string two or three performances together of the quality of this one maybe my mind will be changed for me. I didnít ever think it possible that my man Ian could possibly play so well in a green shirt. He defended well, didnít get exposed out of position, supported Duff well, his distribution was quite good & then for good measure he scored an absolute belter of goal. In actual fact the goal was of no great surprise because he had being playing so well that I actually fancied him to bury it when he strode up to take the second-half free kick on the edge of the Czech box.
And bury it he did !!! Cue pandemonium on the North Terrace, where any members of the PeoplesFlag not living it up in Albuquerque had gathered. With Donogh off partying in New Mexico, photographic duties fell to Karl. Now far be it from me to claim to be some sort of David Bailey type but I will give you one tip Mr. OíConnor Ė charge up your batteries the next time you plan on taking a few pics with Richieís fancy new digital camera !!! The goal was thoroughly deserved as Ireland had been giving it a real go since half-time. Keane had a shot well saved, Reid had a good effort blocked and big Doherty hit a thumping header against the upright. Then Morrison was fouled on the edge of the box and up strode Hartey to begin erasing some of the painful memories that I have of him in a green shirt.
Right from the first whistle of the night, at shortly after half seven on a gorgeous Spring evening, Ireland had laid down their intentions. Their football was crisp and bright with the front two of Keano & Clint linking up together really well. Duffer was his usual brilliant self. This lad gets better and better & although he is one of Chelskiís star performers across the water, I think he saves his best for his trips back to his homeland. He was on fire tonight, teasing and tormenting the Czechs until he finally called it a night after 75 minutes. If you donít tend to go to matches, take a little bit of advice from me and try and get a ticket for the Romania game in two months time. This boy just has to be seen to be believed. And the great thing is that he seems to get better with every game. TV just canít do him justice.
It was from a Duffer cross that Kilbane headed over with one of the better chances of the first half after about half an hour. Shortly before the break a brilliant piece of trickery from our red-headed footballing genius played in Killer whose cross was blasted wide by Robbie who had drifted free at the far post. The Czechs too had a few chances, most of which were capably dealt with by Shay. They are a quality team and it wasnít hard to see how they had gone 2 Ĺ years without being beaten. Nedved showed touches of his class without really looking like European footballer of the year but I think Eamo probably put him off his game with his roaring at him whenever he took a corner right below us in the first half. Visibly shaken would best sum it up !!!!
Everyone was in great form at the break as we discussed the events of the first 45 minutes. Plans were also being finalised for the trip to Poland in 4 short weeks. This will be Niallís first absence from a TPF outing since the formation of the website. It must be love !!!!! Then some joker from the FAI gave permission for our upcoming Eurovision entrant to come out and entertain us. He was warmly welcomed with a tirade of abuse, the expected sarcastic comments about his backround and unsurprisingly a chant of ĎWho are ye???í. By the time he had finished his little number, I actually felt sorry for young Doran. His confidence must be shot to pieces before he heads off to represent his country in Turkey. Thankfully though, Final Four didnít make an appearance by his side. That wouldíve been too much.
The Czechs must have made four or five changes at half time with Nedved & Koller being among those replaced. Our boss though, fancied taking the highly prized Czech scalp, and made no unnecessary changes. Seven minutes later our left backís dead-ball expertise proved him to be dead right. A couple of minutes after that Harte cleared off the line and his rehabilitation was complete !!! The Czechs were coming into the game more & more and it was no surprise when they finally scored. With only 10 minutes to go Baros latched on to a ball played in over the top of our central defenders. He got there just before Shay and nudged it past him. I was sick. Surely after a display like this we werenít going to half to share the spoils. And I really wanted to break their 20 match unbeaten record.
The 11 lads on the pitch who now included Delap, Miller, Kinsella and Lee also seemed to crave a victory. They upped it again and had a real go at the Czechs. Rory even managed to throw the ball directly into the net from a throw-in. Never had I seen that before. But time was running out and it looked like our goose was cooked. Then after ninety-two minutes Alan Lee muscled his way past a couple of Czech defenders down the right. He did brilliantly to get the ball to the bye line but we had thought he had blown it as his feeble cross trickled into the box. Amazingly Robbie, instead of just throwing his hands up in the air in despair as most strikers would have done, somehow changed the angle of his run latched onto it and absolutely buried it into the far corner. A real Robbie Keane goal. The stadium erupted and Robbie went off doing his cartwheel. Quality.
And that was that. A brilliant victory following an outstanding performance. I honestly canít think of anything too negative to say. Andy Reid wasnít as influential as his last outing in the green & Liam Miller didnít do an awful lot in the twenty five minutes he got at the end. But Kilbane excelled again in the middle of the park, Holland was his usual efficient self and Lee showed in just 15 minutes that he will be posing a serious challenge to Clinton in the race to partner Robbie up front. Clinton himself showed a lot of good touches and an eagerness to run all night (even after getting the ball full in the nether regions straight after the re-start). In fact Iím even in such a positive, happy mood I wonít even mention the lack of the Eircom League fans & their big flags !!! Good luck to Eamon & Donogh in Poland. Thereíll be another report after that one.
Until then ÖÖÖÖÖ Ciaran