Following the disappointment of the Sweden game it was nice to have an away trip to throw ourselves into straight afterwards, albeit that we were travelling to Austria far more in hope than expectation. With an 8.15 flight out of Dublin on Monday morning I had the usual fitful sleep the night before filled with dreams about oversleeping and rushing to make the flight so it was nearly a relief when the alarm went off at 6 and I dragged myself out of bed to ready myself for the half 6 taxi and the journey ahead. As a few of my regular travelling companions were sitting this game out I was rooming for the first time with an old mate, Brendan, a veteran from many trips in the past going back to the mid 90's so it was good to see him at the airport and to see a few familiar faces from his crew down at the gate. A short flight to Luton and a two hour wait for a connection was spent reminiscing about those old trips and it wasn't long before we were airborne again en route to Bratislava which is only an hour or so from Vienna and was the cheapest option for getting there. A quick pit stop for a beer in Bratislava airport while we waited for the bus was followed by an uneventful journey and we arrived in Vienna around 5. Terry the Tash had done his usual trick of booking half the hotels in Vienna as soon as the games were announced before cancelling the ones he didn't need, he had set us up with a cracking room in a lovely hotel at a decent rate so we'd hit the jackpot there! A quick freshen up and we stopped in the hotel bar to be served by an excellent Austrian bartender the spit of BBC's Andrew Marr and waited for a couple of the other lads in the hotel before heading out for food and to check out the town.
Our award winning bartender....kind of......
While walking up to the Schewdenplatz area, which was to become our base for the trip, we walked past the team hotel just in time to see John Delaney wandering around the bar pressing the flesh as per but having given him a serious ear-bashing a couple of years back in Skopje I decided against a repeat performance and we carried out to what turned out to be a lovely pedestrianised area with 40 odd bars and restaurants. Having eaten and been joined by the Brummie crew, we headed off to a local Irish bar named after one of my favourite haunts, Dick Mack's in Dingle! Unfortunately, the name was pretty much where the similarities ended given that Dick Mack's in Dingle has one of the nicest pints of Guinness in the country while the first pint of black liquid I was served in Vienna left a lot to be desired! On the plus side, there was an ongoing midweek price offer in place where all pints were €2.40 from Monday to Thursday with all shots €1.20 so despite the average stout and dingy decor we soldiered on for another couple of hours with the drink and the conversation improving the more it flowed. To be fair to the place, it looks like your typical student bar which is understandable at those prices and the crowd that started arriving backed that up. After a tip from the barmaid we moved onto another pub which was owned by the same crowd around the corner called Sally's, so we decamped there and put the word around to some other friends who were en route. Sally's was a different proposition altogether and was very well put together. Although the lager was the same price, the Guinness in there was unfortunately a bit pricier at €3.60 but was a better pint and still pretty cheap in comparison to Dublin prices!
Dick Mack's v2.0!
My old mate Billy had travelled down from his Swiss home with his wife Sophie and having arrived at every pub we'd been in just after we'd left he finally caught up with us in Sally's and immediately started sparking off hilarious conversations in his own inimitable fashion. Having spent a couple of hours in Sally's and caught up with everyone we grabbed a few taxis and made our way to a bar called Charlie P's across the city where the YBIG crew had made their base. Although the place looked pretty busy when we arrived about 1, there seemed to be a bit of space inside, it took a fair bit of persuasion on my part for the lot of us to be allowed in but after a couple of minutes they relented and we made our way inside. Although there was a smaller travelling support than normal for the game with a Germany trip in the offing next month, there was still a great atmosphere in the place with the usual night before a game shenanigans going on, lots of ceoil agus caint upstairs with a dancefloor downstairs and we managed to find a few seats and got a bit of a sing-song going before the place shut down around 3am so we headed back to the hotel to grab a quick bite from a noodle bar in the vicinity to try and pre-emptively cut off the hangover and called it a night. I've always loved being in a city the night before a game, the atmosphere is always superb as optimism takes over and Vienna didn't disappoint.
Game day arrived with the noodles having at least helped with the hangover as did the sun which was shining without a cloud in the sky as we got ready to head out and the fans began congregating in the various watering holes in the city centre. We wandered back to Schwedenplatz to find the bars we'd started in the previous night weren't opening till later in the afternoon, so we settled in a local bar called Krah Krah which had seating outside and spent the next couple of hours waiting for the likes of the Quinn towers, a certain small brown man and Caimin and Karl who were only arriving on the day. A few Austrian fans had already arrived so there was a good bit of craic interspersed by the arrival of a local T.V. crew who interviewed some of the Austrian's and then requested a chant from us so we were happy to oblige with a chorus of 'Come On You Boys In Green'! A good crew of us had gathered at that stage, but as I had to collect a ticket (and unfortunately just as happy hour drinks for €1.70 had begun!) myself and Bren ducked out for a couple of hours for that and hung around for a drink with the lad who had the spare, which was a bit of craic, before heading back to our crowd and catching the end of the second happy hour. We also got the news that Sweden had gone ahead early in Kazakhstan which really killed off any of the lingering optimism we had that a miracle might happen. At that stage we figured our goose was cooked, so concentrated on making the best of the trip and enjoyed the final couple of hours before heading to the stadium having had the Sweden result confirmed en route.
As usual, the craic on the train out to the ground was great with Irish and Austrian supporters mingling and swapping chants with The Fields of Athenry and The 12 Days of Paul McGrath ringing through the carriages. I can normally get pretty tense heading out to games where there's something at stake but given that qualification was really beyond our grasp the pressure was off and I was just hoping for a good performance and hopefully a victory to regain a bit of pride. We got up to the ground and were greeted by a pretty spectacular looking stadium at dusk and the sight inside was even more impressive as the locals were determined to help their team hold onto the final sliver of hope they had for hauling back Sweden in the race for qualification. Flags had been left out on every Austrian seat which lead to some very impressive coordination around the stadium and really added to the atmosphere. For a change, there was actually space to get the 69er's flag hung and having done that I went back to my seat and waited for the game to begin.
Onto the game itself and, once again, I felt we started reasonably well with Austria struggling to get any ball in the first ten minutes which silenced their fans somewhat and I'm sure I even heard a couple of boos at that stage. Unfortunately, as has so often been the case, this wasn't to last and at around the 15 minute mark, David Alaba began to get on the ball and dictate the midfield as we began to drop a bit deeper. To be fair, Paul Green was making a nuisance of himself and I think that James McCarthy plays better with Green beside him rather than Glenn Whelan but Alaba really looks the real deal and was head and shoulders above everyone on the park. But, although Austria were gaining a foothold, it wasn't all bad from Ireland with Robbie Keane putting a half chance just wide on around the half hour mark and Anthony Pilkington doing well to cut back inside after a ball from Shane Long but dragging his shot into the side netting. Alaba was still causing problems though as the game opened up a bit and David Forde was needed to parry a couple of shots to his left and his right as the game moved towards half time. At the other end, Long did what he should have done on Friday to pull a ball across the box where Jon Walters was waiting but their keeper got down well to intercept. The game was fairly end to end by now and John O'Shea can consider himself very unlucky to have got booked for a challenge where a far worse one through the back of Long had gone unpunished earlier. That was O'Shea out of next month's game and then to compound things Robbie Keane was also booked after the ref blew for half time which was poor form by the ref given that, as captain, Keane should have the right to bring a query to the ref. So a reasonably close first half had finished nil all but given how Ireland have tended to fade later in games this campaign I was concerned for the second.
The start of the second half was similar to the first and we were well on top for the first 15 minutes without really troubling their keeper. Unfortunately, Alaba began dictating things again and we reverted to type by drifting further back. O'Shea looked to pick up a knock and was replaced by Ciaran Clark which was an understandable like for like change but, given how the game was going, it was very frustrating to see another like for like change around 75 minutes when Pilkington was replaced by James McClean. Personally I think McClean could consider himself unlucky to have been dropped after a reasonable game on Friday but I'm tired at this stage of no effort being made to change how the team in set up when games are slipping away from us. If things aren't working then maybe try something else, as just putting fresh legs on and sticking with the same game plan hasn't been working. Austria began their best spell of the game around then with a flurry of corners requiring some last gasp defending and blocks from the likes of Green and Seamus Coleman in particular. However, having weathered that storm and broken upfield a couple of times ourselves we were to shoot ourselves in the foot once again. McCarthy had the ball in midfield under little pressure with options in front of him and across to his left. He chose the more difficult ball, for me, and lofted it forward to Walters but even if it wasn't the easier ball it was a bad touch from Walters when he had time to control it and possession was ceded back to Austria. They broke quickly and worked the ball down their left. As the ball was pulled across the box there seemed enough time for Dunne or Clark to clear it but it evaded both and pinged around before ending at Marc Wilson's feet. His attempted clearance was mishit and of course has to land right at Alaba's feet who finished superbly first time and blasted a shot into the roof of the net where it couldn't have been blocked by the various defenders on the line. Once again, a late goal to break our hearts and send the Austrian support into raptures.
The final sub had been made just before the goal with Conor Sammon replacing an out of sorts Long but, despite our continued efforts to hoof the ball towards his head, we looked dejected after the goal and the game fizzled out as the fans, players and staff realised that the end of the Trap era would be marked by our first away defeat of it. The final whistle nearly came as a relief as it was clear we weren't going to score at that stage. I'd thought beforehand that Trap would see the campaign out but by the final whistle had come around to thinking it was time for him to go. Although you can't blame the manager for some of the individual errors which have been so costly this campaign, I've lost patience with his idiosyncratic team selections and substitutions which have done nothing to change the flow of games when they've been slipping away from us. There are options such as Wes Hoolohan which should have been utilised as it's been clear that the options he's been using haven't been working. But I guess the pros and cons of his reign are for another blog. Although I always hate coming out of games where we've lost and was gutted in the immediate aftermath, I wasn't as annoyed or down as I have been in the past given that the campaign was all but over after the Sweden result from earlier that day. While walking out I was approached by a young Austrian fan with his Dad looking to see if I'd swap flags with him but I was happy enough to just give him the tricolour draped around my shoulders which seemed to make his night as I passed it to him.
So we made our way back to Sally's where those we didn't see leaving the stadium gathered. The atmosphere wasn't as morose as previous away defeats but it was a bit strange having not experienced it in so long, bar the draw in Paris which felt like a defeat as well as a robbery. There wasn't a huge amount of conversation about the football as we all knew that this was the end of the road for Trap. In fact, the most passionate debate of the night was started by Billy asking people what their Top 10 women of the 80's would be! Lads were still arguing the toss about it when we were heading back in the airport yesterday when Daisy Duke came into the conversation! I can't believe we missed Kim Wilde.......