GAA Football

Off The Fence: RTE panel leave reader feeling cold after Republic of Ireland play-off joy

Martin O'Neill jumps for joy after the final whistle sounded on Monday night. The Republic of Ireland defeated Wales to secure a spot in next month's World Cup qualifiers
Neil Loughran

THERE was so much to enjoy about Monday night. A sea of green in Cardiff, the ‘Land of our Fathers’ lip-sync challenge and, of course, the eventual slaying of the Welsh dragon.

On the pitch, Jeff Hendrick’s jink down the line, Harry Arter’s dummy and James McClean’s rocket were joyful.

Shane Duffy is probably still standing on the edge of the six yard box inside an empty Cardiff City Stadium, heading away any fly that even thinks of moving in his direction.

But is wasn’t all fun and games. The final half an hour wasn’t enjoyable. The final five minutes, in particular, were hellish. And for some, the pre and post-match fare over on RTE took some of the gloss from an otherwise unforgettable evening.

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SEASONED Republic of Ireland follower ‘Michael from west Belfast’ got the Apostles round for a few beers, but was so enraged by the comments of Dunphy, Brady and co that he was moved to park his celebrations and call our hotline.

He said: “I travel regularly to watch the Ireland matches at the Aviva and away. I sat tonight with 12 of my friends, many of whom go to the games with me, and it was great to watch Derry man James McClean getting the winner and Derry man Shane Duffy, man of the match.

“The worst part of the evening was having to listen to the RTE commentators who, before the match, attacked Martin O’Neill’s selection. Even after Ireland won and made the play-off, you still had Eamon Dunphy and Liam Brady having a go at him.

“I feel it’s time now that Martin O’Neill, Roy Keane and the Irish players refused to do interviews with RTE while these commentators because, no matter what they achieve, it’s never going to satisfy these individuals.

“They did the exact same with Jack Charlton, and the overwhelming majority of Ireland fans - and I know it from speaking to them home and away - are sick, sore and tired.

“We must be the only country in the world who attack their own country when they’re actually winning and achieving something.

“We’ve got to the stage now where I actually think they would prefer Ireland to loser to justify their own narrow-minded opinion.”

As somebody who watched the match on Sky Sports due to the RTE encryption, I can’t claim to feel your pain.

It’s an interesting one though because, heading into the game, the public attitude towards O’Neill was on a knife-edge. There weren’t exactly flares sent into the sky when his new contract was announced last week.

Had Ireland failed to bag a play-off spot, he would have been criticised for what was a disastrous second half of the qualifying campaign.

But on the night, when it really mattered, he got it spot on, and all involved deserve huge credit. However, TV panels are there to scrutinise and, win or not, Martin O’Neill shouldn’t be regarded as above that.

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ON the GAA front, the red and black may have had one of their better summers in a few years, but ‘Disillusioned Down fan’ feels Championship wins over Armagh and Monaghan were simply papering over the cracks.

“It seems to me that the GAA fixture list in The Irish News is longer for Down than other Ulster counties, yet Down has not achieved inter-county success at any level for many years: minor U21 or senior.

“I made a point of attending a competitive U13 match recently and found it less than edifying. I would contend that less emphasis should be placed on underage competitive football and more on underage skills development both within clubs and at schools

“Challenge matches could be organised with other clubs which subscribe to the skills development philosophy at underage level. Maybe the Down development squads are addressing all these concerns but I am yet to be convinced.

“Eamonn Burns did a great job with Down this year, but a complete lack of vision and investment in underage structures over many years mean that he was working with limited resources.

“The harsh reality is that Down are light years behind Tyrone who are, in turn, light years behind Dublin. Never did Sam Maguire seem to far away.”

Everybody is light years behind Dublin and, for all but maybe two or three others, the chances of winning an All-Ireland title have rarely seemed more remote.

Down are in the same boat but there are ongoing attempts to close the gap with the Tyrones of this world, through the establishment of the Mourne Academy and a possible new centre of excellence at the former Ballykinler army base.

A huge amount of work lies ahead, but it has to start somewhere.

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