Ireland v Germany – the build up, the battle, and the bliss

The international scene in Ireland needed an injection of positivity after a steady decline since the 2002 World Cup in Saipan. So much negativity surrounds the soccer team, with bandwagon loads of people getting their fix from rugby because, well, we’re quite good at a minority sport.

Perhaps that’s harsh but we witnessed something special on Thursday night. For me, a young freelance journalist based in Co. Tipperary, it was a surreal experience after being granted media accreditation for the first time.

 

Wednesday was hectic, in the best possible way, as someone whose directional sense of Dublin is below par. Having a lift to the FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown was helpful to catch my bearings, whereas not knowing how to get to the German press conference an hour later provided panic and near hair loss.

There was no talk whatsoever in the build up that Ireland could get a result against the World Champions. For instance, the headlines focused more on Robbie Keane breastfeeding and if Poland were going to do us a favour against Scotland than the Irish nicking something.

Luckily, I got talking to a few writers on the Ireland national scene that were car pooling and they offered a lift to the hotel where Joachim Low and Mats Hummels would soon brief the media. I sat there wondering why I took French at school and not German but the translator unsurprisingly proved beneficial.

The Germans had very little to say about Ireland and the media they sent appeared uninterested to hear about what Low expected of their upcoming opposition. Eventually, once asked, his response was “I think that Ireland are famous for defending”, whilst believing O’Neill’s side to be stronger than Scotland.

Again on Thursday all talk was about getting Mullered by the Germans. The two lads I spoke to on the Dart to Landsdowne were attempting to be as optimistic possible. They travel home and away, have been to numerous tournaments such as the World Cup that saw Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane fall out, but at the ground one realised that his ticket had been lost or stolen. A nightmare you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy but hopefully the stewards they approached upon entry sorted the lad out.

 

The view from the media section was superb – as anticipated – but it was a chilly night to be sat there typing furiously. I’m not one to complain as what became a historic night for Irish football was already one I’ll hold on to gratefully career wise.

Ireland played a counter attacking game without pace up front in the first half. However, defensively, where it matters most when up against a team like Germany, the back-four carried out their duties exceptionally.

A chance that broke to Wes Hoolahan prior to the interval saw Manuel Neuer clear off his line asking to be chipped. Instead Hoolahan, who was excellent in the second half, turned back and played a simple pass which inevitably slowed Ireland down.

At half-time it was a relief to see an Irish side not get destroyed early on and it was then a question of how long will this last?

The Aviva Stadium was about to see something special and throughout the second half there was belief in the ground. ‘Dare I say this could be Ireland’s night,’ I contemplated sharing across social media but a potential backlash or jinx played on my mind.

Introducing Shane Long to the action made the difference, as headlines will told you on Friday morning. Prior to kick-off when the team was announced many wondered what the Tipperary man had to do in order to get a start under O’Neill. Well, last night was the answer to that and if he’s benched against Poland on Sunday night there is something seriously wrong.

However, there is always a bogey man in O’Neill’s team selection. At the press conference on Wednesday he seemed a bit uneasy but last night it was smiles all round which, I thought, was thoroughly deserved.

Long’s injection of pace was always going to trouble Borussia Dortmund centre back Mats Hummels but he also dragged Jonas Hector and Jerome Boateng with him before slotting the ball home. The finish too, sent right across Neuer, was an act of brilliance that will go down in Irish sporting history.

Marcos Reus, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze, who came off injured in the first half, operated as a quadrant attack, dipping in and out of starting positions to try and rattle Ireland’s defensive unit.

 

The 20 minutes that followed Long’s goal felt like a lifetime but Ireland hung on by showcasing elements of a defensive masterclass with John O’Shea and Richard Keogh alert to cancel out any threat Germany posed.

While O’Neill’s side is looked upon as one that is conservative and the opposite to gung-ho, they showed in parts that they’re capable of playing football and not just resulting to route one all the time.

The Aviva was buzzing after a magical night, so shortly after full-time I made my way towards the mixed zone where a select few players involved in the game spoke to the media. The Germans players and press mingled, as did the Irish, by sticking to their own – an understandable method to avoid differences in language.

When asked about coming up against in-form Poland striker Robert Lewandowski, John O’Shea told Back Page Football:

It’s one of those things. It won’t just be me, it will be the team like we showed throughout the campaign.

 

I think we have the best defensive record in the campaign and that’s not just coming from the defenders. It’s the goalkeepers, the midfielder unit. The players, we’ve stuck together as a team and we’ll do that again on Sunday.

 

We’ll be confident to cause them [Poland] problems. Shane Long, Daryl Murphy, Jon Walters and Robbie Keane as well so we’ve plenty of players capable of causing them problems.

Later that night I made sure it wasn’t just one Tipperary man that secured points/pints in Dublin. A night to remember but there’s still work to be done.

The Author

Dale O'Donnell

Freelance journalist and StrettyNews.com editor since 2010. Published on Daily Mail, Mirror, The Sun's Dream Team, BBC Sport, Telegraph and more.

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