Fun and Games at the Aviva

There was more fun at the Aviva Stadium last night than there had been watching Ireland throughout the whole of 2018.

The crowd were slow to arrive but in the end they came, 40,317 by the official attendance, and they came with a bit more of an intent to enjoy themselves.

There were regular chants for John Delaney to leave and to take the whole of the FAI with him but there was more just a bit of craic about it than real anger.

The fact that a group had selected the 33rd minute to throw tennis balls on the pitch actually proved a godsend of timing.

There is irony in the fact that of all the perceived grievances fans may have about Delaney and the administration of the game, they highlighted one that resulted in a net gain for the sport of €5 million.

Then there was a minute that changed the night. David McGoldrick had won a free in a dangerous position.

The football brain would have cried halt to the 33rd minute. After all why would you delay and distract our own player?

But the FAI has consistently ridden its luck and survived furores of the past.

If the ball throwing had been delayed, and the free kick missed, they would have been thrown with more anger and vengeance and the mood would have soured.

As it was thought they were barely bouncing off the pitch when the place erupted as Conor Hourihane put us one-nil up. Magic and you know what, they were playing well.

At the nadir of Martin O’Neill’s reign, we played a game against Serbia where we had fewer than 100 passes. Last night we hit over 500. It looked like football and the crowd responded.

McGoldrick was called ashore to a standing ovation and his main rival for the man of the match award was Glenn Whelan, one of the figures we loved to despair of in the past.

Now he did take a shot towards the end that actually went so far wide it ended as a throw-in but it was an exception and we could afford to chuckle rather than stare madly in frustration.

It will be a long two weeks leading up to the Oireachtas Committee and who knows what if any other material will emerge but for now the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are sitting on maximum points after two games. That does matter and there will be more tickets sold for the next game in June.

Before the match, we were able to enjoy a bit of hospitality in the new section on the fourth floor being run by House, the boutique hotel chain.

It’s set up like the lounge of a smart hotel, plenty of comfortable chairs, subdued lighting and foliage, as well as free food and drink before and after the match.

It’s part of a Platinum Club Ireland package and it’s not cheap at €375 per head but in terms of corporate hospitality it’s not outrageous either and the quality of surroundings was well up to scratch.

We also had Jacqui Hurley do a little pre-match show with Richard Dunne and Karen Duggan.

It’s a sign of the progress made on the area of Women in Sport that Karen’s presence is now the norm as opposed to the exception. Not a bad thing too as her match prediction was for a really exciting 1-0 win. Her tongue was perhaps a little in her cheek but you know what she might just have the gift of foresight.

I certainly want to know her prediction when Switzerland, Gibraltar and Denmark drop by over the next six months.

 

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