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A crisp, fresh night. Not too cold. Perfect really, for an experimental friendly with the Greeks, themselves off international duty. Salpingidis, last seen here with PAOK when they disposed of Shamrock Rovers in the Europa League; Samaras who shows his class in Scotland week-on-week, etc. etc. They are recent European champions. That must count for something. Quality opposition, I would have said.
Obviously the majority of COYBIGs deemed this one unworthy of their time, even though it presented the chance to see the younger contingent in numbers enough for them to expect to influence the game. It was also a night where Michel Platini arrived to honour the memory of James Nolan, who never returned from the Euros 2012 in Poland, and to “thank the Irish supporters for their passion”. The display of that passion needs numbers to thrive.
The squandered opportunity of an occasion of this nature is considerable. If the price for all standard tickets is fixed at a tenner, then you’d have to expect that every football-loving fan in the country would relish the thought of herself and her kids being there at the start of the new breed’s time. But the prices stay high, and the attendance has seldom been lower, perhaps only for the Carling Nations Cup.
The 15,000-odd made themselves heard as they always do, and the night was generally encouraging, so it’s not all bad. But you need to be planting the seeds for the young fans on these nights, to have any hope of harvesting them when the big nights come along down the road.
It was also evident that the Lansdowne pitch needs TLC. Watching the engaging rugby encounter with South Africa on Saturday, the glaring feature was the fragility of the playing surface, and they gave it a harsh examination. The excellent TV close-ups showed a sod that is brittle and loose, almost powdery under the surface, giving it little hope of retaining its composure under the pressure of 30 fast-moving, mobile bodies grinding it with platform after platform as the phases demanded.
So it was that Wednesday night, there were several ignominious patches littering the sward, which is looking a little threadbare. One frost in total this winter so far, no great cold at all, and with care it has no excuse for not looking its best for these nights. My back garden with the detritus of multiple building sites underneath it, looks happier. The players seemed to survive it though, and that matters. I’d suggest it’s as much a measure of their quality that they managed to deliver entertainment in the event, and they did.
We’re looking for any signs of hope for the future in this team, and they were there to be seen, in a line-up that was deemed experimental. The right side needs power, and ideas, so it was heartening to see the mobility and cleverness displayed by man-of-the-match Seamus Coleman linking usefully on a number of occasions with Robbie Brady who brings a will to take on defenders and promised much. There were shots on goal, some wayward but showing confidence which will work its way into the international setup. Hull should benefit from his power in the coming months.
David Forde in goal was afforded decent protection by a steady partnership of O’Shea and Ciaran Clark, if Clark was a little over-zealous in the tackle. Ward defended adequately, but didn’t offer much in the way of offense, it has to be said.
James McClean on that left side in the first half tried without success to punch holes in the staunch Greek defence. Changing him to the right for the second half allowed him to express himself while bringing Coleman forward usefully for spells. The former Sligo Rovers man’s size belies his strength and pace, as he indicated when turning the Greek full-back a couple of times.
Glenn Whelan’s fruitless half-hour ended when he left the fray with a hamstring problem, and Keith Andrews took advantage of good positioning to occasionally test the Greeks – his distribution, if a little inaccurate, gave us some attacking options either side. Meyler appears to have some speed in the locker also, but himself and Hoolahan need more time on the pitch to exert any real influence on proceedings. However the left was neglected after the break, with Andy Keogh’s runs in behind wasted more than once. We’ll be glad of McGeady’s return.
It wasn’t a night for Shane Long to shine, as the lack of height in the forward line showed once more. Kevin Doyle’s arrival changed the dynamic, and he made a nuisance of himself, but I suspect his involvement will need to be tweaked if the goals are to come. I still believe that given the ability of this week’s line-up to exert pressure, Robbie Keane in the slot behind the front two could be a useful ploy. And what better occasions than these to experiment?
An enjoyable night and a beneficial exercise, which could have been enjoyed by a lot more people if the price was right. On balance, I’d be looking forward to the visit of Poland in February. We just need to be seeing more ideas being tried against quality opposition, especially when the stakes are not particularly high. You’d still fear that we’ll revert to the stale old system come the next round of qualifiers though.
Jerome Corby is a Shamrock Rovers fan and cameraman for Donagh Corby’s award-winning The League of Ireland Interview Show at http://www.youtube.com/interviewloi.