Yesterday we suggested that last night’s otherwise unexceptional friendly between the Republic of Ireland and Qatar could prove to be a tipping point for this team.
Then up stepped Callum Robinson in the 3rd minute of the game to spark the celebration of just over 25,000 fans that had kept the faith.
Then, when the penalty was won he stepped forward to grab the ball and buried it in the left-hand corner. And with a determination to finish what he had threatened in Baku, he latched on to a brilliant through ball from Jeff Hendrick to secure his place as only the ninth man ever to score a hat trick in the Republic of Ireland shirt.
That a place in history should be sealed in the blue shirts that marked our centenary was also appropriate in the bigger picture.
But this was about more than one player. Throughout the game, the camaraderie and encouragement the players gave each other was telling. It’s the kind of thing you only get from being there as opposed to watching the flight of the ball on TV.
It also felt like it was a team in step with the fans, who created a sell-out in the Covid restrictions that could only have been imagined a few short months ago when the team lost to Luxembourg in the same venue, the second lowest-ranked team that has ever happened against.
At that time we wrote:
“What would be the alternative to Stephen Kenny? A Premier League manager that is out of a job and who has no connection to the young generation of players that Kenny has overseen through his years at U21?”
“Would that really be transformational?”
“No is the answer. We have enjoyed some great moments with the Irish national team and will do so again but we have to build again from a low base. Seamus Coleman got the Player of the Match on Saturday but Jason Knight was a refreshing starter in the midfield and Gavin Bazuno could hold the number one jersey for the next two decades based on his confidence and ability at such a young age.”
“Yes, cancel those provisional bookings you’d made for a trip to the middle east in November of next year but focus instead on the hopes of a European Championship in Germany between the 14th of June and the 14th of July, 2024.”
“It’s less than three times the distance away as the time we have spent in Lockdown, and time enough to find just one player who we can rely on to score an occasional goal.”
“It’s not quite so bad that we are underdogs for the game against Qatar but that is exactly what we are again in international football. And you know something, that tends to be the place from where have launched our best sporting memories in the sport.”
Last night the crowd sang there’s only one Stephen Kenny. he is not the most polished of performers in front of the camera’s and in a time when it is only a rare exception that you get to see any of the emotion from managers of top football teams, perhaps that is part of why he has been liked better than his record would have allowed for.
Now though we are unbeaten in two matches, we have won away from home by 3-0 and at home by 4-0. The last time we scored three goals in consecutive games was in 2013 under Noel King and then in Martin O’Neill’s first match in charge.
We have an away game against Luxembourg which could add to the feel-good and then we have Christiano Ronaldo and Portugal in the Aviva, for what will hopefully be allowed as a full capacity game.
The tickets for that go on sale next Tuesday and there will be demand. Then there will be the draw for the Euro 2024 qualifiers, and then the return of a season ticket with the prospect of games against marquee opposition where we will play good attractive football and have a chance of getting good results.
Brands with an eye on capturing the moments when a sport is at its most interesting, most attractive and most compelling will note the change in the mood music within Irish football.
The leadership at the FAI will not be resting on their laurels but for once, and for the first time in a while, they will enter the doors at Abbotstown with a real pep in their step.
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