IT WAS JUST LIKE OLD TIMES last night.
The shiny new Aviva Stadium bounced in a manner that brought back echoes of the rickety old Lansdowne Road.
With a magical swing of his right boot in the 70th minute, Shane Long (pictured above) secured a place in those nostalgic reels of the great moments.
Long’s goal will now be cut and pasted in alongside those iconic images provided to us by Ray Houghton, Packie Bonner, Kevin Sheedy, Alan McLoughlin, Jason McAteer and Robbie Keane.
The meaning of it safeguards it place among that stellar cast.
Just 15 months ago, Germany were crowned World Champions, beating Argentina 1-0 in the World Cup final in Rio, thanks to Mario Götze’s goal in extra time.
They were humbled by the Grand Canal last night by a man who scored 2-1 twice in Munster Minor Hurling finals for Tipperary against Cork, winning in 2003, but coming out on the losing end in 2004.
Cut from the tough hurling cloth of Gortnahoe, Long’s stage might well have been Semple Stadium, but he chose instead to follow football’s dream when he signed for Pat Dolan at Cork City.
Last night, Long brought the good old days into the present day with his magnificent 70th minute goal.
Somewhere, if he was watching, Jack Charlton surely drew a smile, for it was a goal that was a throwback to his heady days.
Substitute ‘keeper Darren Randolph – making his competitive debut after replacing the injured Shay Given late in the first half – thumped forward towards Long.
The Southampton attacker’s first touch wasn’t the best, but he made up for it with his second. He had German’s breathing down his neck, but Long thundered beyond Manuel Neuer and into the top corner.
It was the cue for bedlam – and 20 minutes of long, agonising looks at the timepieces.
The win guarantees Ireland a play-off place, at least. A 2-2 draw or better against Poland at the Stadion Narodowy in Warsaw on Sunday will mean Ireland qualify automatically for Euro 2016.
Anything less and Martin O’Neill’s team will be heading for the play-offs.
This was a performance that was O’Neill to the core: Hard-working and full of passion, effort and commitment to the cause.
Hard work is something that will have been preached into the ears of a young James McCarthy when growing up in Castlemilk in Glasgow, where they get nothing handed to them.
McCarthy, who qualifies for Ireland through his grandfather, Paddy Coyle, a native of Doirenamainsear in Annagry, ran himself to a standstill and Jonathan Walters wasn’t far behind.
It was the sort of display that had all of O’Neill’s hallmarks and it was one that has become an all-too-rare occurrence in Ballsbridge.
In the last 14 years, Ireland have only beaten one team listed above them in the FIFA Rankings. That was in 2007, when Kevin Doyle’s goal gave the Steve Staunton-managed Ireland a 1-0 win over Slovakia at Croke Park.
It was hardly comparable to last night’s humbling of Joachim Löw’s World Champions.
For something on the same page, you must go all the way back to September 2001 and another of the time-stood-still flashes.
It was Slane Saturday and U2 were headlining, but the rock and roll that day was at Lansdowne Road, where Ireland were taking on Holland in a World Cup qualifier.
Roy Keane left his imprint on Marc Overmars in the opening minutes and, in the 68th minute, Ireland struck gold. Keane fed Steve Finnan, who turned Philip Cocu before arrowing the ball across the penalty box for McAteer.
The rest, as they say, is history.
McAteer fired past Edwin Van der Sar, Holland were dumped out and Louis van Gaal was subsequently fired, only to land the job of Barcelona’s manager.
“If the tables were turned there’s no way I’d have got Barcelona, is there?” McCarthy later wondered, mischievously.
Last night, there was a wry smile from O’Neill as he took the chance to deliver a riposte in Löw’s direction.
“Against opponents like these, you need to score and avoid any mistakes. We avoided 99 of those long balls and kept possession but the 100th long ball was one long ball too many,” the German manager said.
O’Neill batted his comments away for six..
“I’m not even sure we kicked it 100 time long,” said O’Neill.
“He’s just gone out, he’s congratulated me and whatever he said in here, he’s been totally different out there before.
“He’s won the World Cup, he’s entitled to a fairly decent opinion… and we, we were brilliant.”
Germany can feel aggrieved at the chances they passed up, although Mesut Özil’s disallowed strike in the first half was their only shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.
At times, though, the defending had to be desperate, but Ireland stood tall with Richard Keogh intercepting just as World Cup final hero Götze was picking his spot and Thomas Müller completely misjudged with a sight of goal.
Ireland held on and the final whistle coincided with a din that hasn’t been heard in Ireland since the days when supporters could stand on terraces at the Havelock Square and Lansdowne Road ends of the ground.
It was good to have it back and now Aviva Stadium final has a moment to call its own among the grainier footage that floods in when the glorious goals are recalled.Tags: