Friday, 29 March 2019

New Balls Please

After such an underwhelming performance in Gibraltar, I have to admit the prospect of dropping points against a Georgia team that had dominated us possession wise both games in the last two campaigns was worrying me. We'd ridden our luck in the 1-0 win at home and the one all draw in the away leg was one of the worst performances I've witnessed on an away trip.

A three-hour delay while on the runway before flying home on Monday evening had taken the shine off a great Sunday night with Dutch and Spanish branches of our support in Malaga. After saying goodbye to all that afternoon as people began making their journeys home, we'd taken a walking tour around the city and had some dinner and a couple of straighteners to take the edge off the previous few days' excess. The plan to arrive home around 10.30 and get an early night went out the window with a computer fault just before take off and having had to taxi back to the gate for running repairs, the delay meant that it was 1.30 in the morning when we got in having spent six and a half hours on the plane.

Needless to say, this didn't help the dose of the fear the next morning although at least I didn't have to suffer getting up for work at five hours after getting to bed, unlike Mrs False First XI! Even so, I was still pretty weary when I surfaced a couple of hours later and attempted to get the Gibraltar blog written before heading over to Lansdowne Road that evening.

As it happened, events overtook me and the finalising of the blog had to wait another day. While touring Malaga the previous day, talk of protests had started to filter through on various WhatsApp groups after the further revelations around John Delaney and his recent employment change. The one that seemed to be gaining traction was the suggestion that tennis balls be thrown onto the pitch during the game but no one seemed to be aware of where it had originated. The only post mentioning it on YBIG was from someone with no posting history and there didn't seem to be much on social media about it either. Despite this, the media were determined to run with it but being in the middle of a tour meant I had to pass the chance to talk to Joe and discuss it on Liveline after a request came in.

However, when a request came in to do a piece on possible protests with Sky Sports the following day, I felt that as a committee member of the YBIG Independent Supporters Mandate, we should take the opportunity to talk about why supporters were feeling the need to protest. With them looking to get someone before 4pm, it meant leaving a couple of hours before my plan so before I got to finish my Gibraltar piece it was into a cab for a slightly different pre-match routine.

Part of our brief within the Mandate is to raise issues that concern supporters and, following what we saw as heavy-handed responses to protests before, we had put the item on the agenda when meeting with the FAI and had minuted what are appropriate means of peaceful protest and what is allowed without intervention from stewards, police or authorities present. So, after issuing a statement the previous day highlighting that again, I found myself standing in front of a camera in front of the West Stand, more than a little nerve-wracked, trying to put those points across to Sky Sports' Guy Havord!

Reach for the Sky

I've done a couple of pieces to camera over the years but it's generally been post-match when I've had a few drinks beforehand and when emotions are high which gives a bit of Dutch courage. This was a lot different but at least I had the security of seeing Guy Havord trip over his lines on the first take. Luckily enough for me seeing as he'd managed to mispronounce my name before that despite his practice beforehand!

Anyway, second time around went alright despite the nerves and after saying goodbye, I went off for food with a little adrenaline still moving through the veins. A bowl of hot chicken wings in The Gasworks settled that but having watched the 5pm bulletin with no sign of my interview, I assumed they'd gone with whatever other footage they had and thought no more about it.

After making my way up to The Beggars for the traditional pre-match preparation, I was just settling into a second pint when my phone started hopping to various piss taking texts from lads who'd spotted my mug and before long the videos started arriving to more mickey taking at the pub itself. Looking back, it shows how much I know when I said I didn't see the tennis ball protest happening!

Slagging aside, there was a good atmosphere and a bigger crowd around than the last couple of times we played Georgia. There were a few groans around when the team news came through with the recall of Glenn Whelan and the absence of Matt Doherty the main complaints. The absence of Sean Maguire was also questioned with a five man midfield behind David McGoldrick clearly the plan.

From my perspective, I've always thought Whelan was a bit of an undeserved scapegoat and appreciated the longevity of his Premier League career and the fact that he's been in great form in the Championship with Aston Villa recently. I'd have been tempted to try Doherty in right midfield again with doubts about Robbie Brady's match fitness but other than that, the team really picked itself. My only hope was we'd see more from them than we had on Saturday.

After heading to the ground, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a standard security check rather than what we'd become used to in the Singing Section since the USA game immediately after the Scotland ticketing debacle in 2014. We got through far quicker than normal and made our spot in plenty of time for the anthems and ubiquitous one-minute silence/applause that seems to come before every game these days.

Old habits die hard

The fact that the FAI had failed to inform their printers about their long-planned change of CEO raised a few laughs when people noted JD still beaming out from the Chief Executive panel in the programme but that was soon forgotten as the game started and Ireland tore into the opposition immediately.

It was clear from the off that this Ireland were a very different proposition from the team witnessed in Gibraltar three days before. Within the first ten minutes, we witnessed Jeff Hendrick pushing on with overlapping support from both Enda Stevens and Seamus Coleman, Conor Hourihane linking well with David McGoldrick, Robbie Brady getting a shot off from a good position and Hendrick and Coleman linking well again before a poor cross from the captain. The tempo was excellent, the pressing was excellent and all that was missing was the final execution with the last delivery or shot letting the good build-up down.

Paperback writer

Georgia immediately looked like they were struggling to deal with that tempo and clearly hadn't expected it.  The crowd had been lively from the kick off with a vocal outing of chants protesting mixed in with those for the team. There were also a number of banners printed on large sheets of paper which had obviously been decided as the easiest way to get them into the ground. Unlike previous occasions when such banners became visible, there were no efforts from the stewards or gardai to move in and confiscate them.

On the ten minute mark, Ireland should have been ahead. Hendrick slid in to win possession and played McGoldrick in. The Sheffield Utd striker passed it on to Hourihane who really should have picked out Robbie Brady instead of hitting a weak shot easily saved. It was a chance missed but again, really encouraging build up.

McGoldrick dug out another chance a couple of minutes later before a Brady free kick in a great position was hit straight into the wall.  Another attack came immediately resulting in another free, this time on the left. Whelan played this one short to Robbie Brady in what was a reverse image of Liam Lawrence's pass for Whelan's famous goal against Italy at Croke Park. In fact, this was about as far forward as I've seen Whelan allowed since then! Unfortunately, Brady couldn't replicate Whelan's finish of a decade before and the ball sailed over.

By now, we'd seen more chances created in twenty minutes than the entire Nations League campaign. Georgia had had a couple of break-outs but they'd been comfortably dealt with by Duffy and Keogh. Anything that was reaching Randolph, he had under control and we were still asserting ourselves and had a shout for a penalty when he tumbled under pressure from  Davit Khocholava but the ref got it right by waving it away.

What happened immediately after that was indicative of the change in mindset. Georgia attempted to clear but the ball was intercepted by centre-half Richard Keogh, stepping up beyond the opposition's side of the centre circle to take command and start another attack. This attack was again let down by a poor Coleman pass but another corner was the reward for the positivity.

As the lone man up front, McGoldrick was covering every blade of grass and actually dropping far deeper than should be expected. But when he did that, he was winning every ball and the midfield were pushing on to give him options ahead. A couple of times, he got the ball out of our ridiculously tight situations and used it well before getting back into forward positions to look for the return. I said as soon as McCarthy was appointed that McGoldrick would be a big player for him after their time at Ipswich together and he was proving it in spades here.

Back in your court

McGoldrick was involved again in what, for more reasons than one, became the decisive part of the game. It was he who was pulled down about 25 yards out as the game reached the 33rd minute. With the free in a very good position, Whelan and Hourihane stood over it as the wall lined up and the ref marked out ten yards. Now, as I said earlier, I don't know who initially mooted the idea of throwing tennis balls onto the pitch and I didn't see where the first one came from but once one came down, another forty or so followed. The majority were from the South end although more from the sides than the centre, there were a few from the North end and a small amount from East and West.

To be honest, it initially got a mixed reception even from those protesting in our area. I assume the 33rd minute was a reference to Delaney's infamous suggestion that Ireland be allowed compete as the 33rd team in the World Cup after Thierry Henry's even more infamous handball. But there was definitely a sense that disrupting the game just when we had a really good chance after a great start could be counter-productive.
As it turned out, the two-minute delay made no difference and for those protesting, what transpired afterwards really couldn't have worked out any better. Once the pitch was clear, Whelan and Hourihane took their positions again and with Whelan stepping back and Shane Duffy leaning into the wall, Hourihane stepped up to serve up an ace of a free-kick around the wall leaving Loria in the Georgian goal no chance whatsoever! One nil and Ireland had the lead they deserved.

Into the net!

Any potential negative reaction from the support was banished at that moment which may not have been the case had the two-minute break disrupted the tempo we had been playing at. The fact that this happened at 33 minutes indicates to me that there was some planning involved but given the different areas of the ground they came from I wonder whether some had just got the idea from the level of whipping up that the media had been partaking in. Either way, as protests go, it's pretty harmless in comparison to what you might see in some other countries and a slap on the wrist and a fine should see the end of it from UEFA while the publicity gained can only be a positive.

There was a little lull following the goal but the tempo lifted again coming into the last five minutes with a corner just missing Keogh. Another indication that this could be a good night for those protesting came in the four minutes stoppage time at the end of the half. Despite the fact that the time added on was legitimate and there would have been the same game time played had no protest occurred. Had Randolph not pulled off an unreal save from Valeriane Gvilia's volley, there's no doubt that a goal at that stage would have been blamed on the protest. As it happened, one nil at half time was the least we deserved.

The 57% first-half possession was a long distance from the 26% we 'enjoyed' the last time the sides met in September 2017. The fact that so much of that took place in the opposition half made for the most enjoyable 45 minutes Lansdowne had witnessed in a long time.

The second half began at a similar tempo. McClean was harrying their right-back although once again, the end product was lacking. We really should have gone two up just before the hour mark after a nineteen pass move ended with Henrick knocking the ball in from a slightly offside position.

Notwithstanding the fact that Hendrick could easily have checked his run and stayed onside without losing the chance or left the ball for Coleman behind him who could have rolled it into an empty net, to see Ireland pass the ball around like that and create a great chance was a joy.

Another call for a penalty followed as McGoldrick went down under a challenge from Solomon Kverkveliya after good work from McClean on the left. At the time I thought there was no way he would have gone down in such a good position had he not been fouled but watching the replay since the ref probably got it right.

The long ball from James McClean sees David McGoldrick clean through but the ball just runs wide #irlgeo #irevgeo #rtesoccer
Georgia worked another couple of chances but the Irish defence was holding firm and still pushing on whenever possible. Enda Stevens probably should have scored only to scuff a shot with twenty minutes to go. Moments later, McGoldrick was sent through one-on-one from a McClean ball over the top but dragged it just too wide when rounding the keeper and just couldn't hook the ball in from a very tight angle. Had he kept his run closer to the keeper he could well have gone over him but he may have had the previous penalty call on his mind and the chance passed.

Aiden O'Brien then came in for Brady who had put in a good shift but still looked a bit off the pace for me. The fact that the tempo had been so high could account for that to be fair.

McGoldrick had one last chance to grab the goal his performance deserved only for Kverkveliya to get a good block in before the clear man of the match was withdrawn to a huge ovation from the crowd. It's a long time since I've seen a striker put in that level of effort and cover that much ground in a game and the sustained applause was richly deserved. Matt Doherty was the man brought in to shore things up for the final ten and O'Brien moved inside to free up the right wing.

There was still enough time for one heart in the mouth moment when a great effort from Jaba Kankava clipped the outside of the post. Had it gone in, it really would have made an issue over the missed chances and wrong final ball options and despite our jokes that Randolph had it covered, had it been a foot the other side of the post he'd not have got near it.

Georgia took a lift from that and began to put pressure on as a visibly tiring Ireland retreated for once but once the four minutes stoppage time was announced we saw another effort from the men in green and even a sliced Whelan shot that went out for a throw-in right beside the corner flag got rapturous applause. Whelan has received a lot of criticism in the past, unfairly in my opinion, for doing what he was instructed to do by successive managers. He's that sort of player and when he has been allowed more freedom for his clubs, he's generally shown that he can play. He wasn't far off McGoldrick for man of the match in my opinion and showed a side of his game that has rarely been seen in green.

Mick McCarthy was roaring his men forward to prevent Georgia from creating anything and with them pushing again, another Hendrick interception sent McClean clear. Instead of running for the corner, he inexplicably booted the ball straight into Loria's arms in another example of poor final decision making much to the rage of all present.

As Georgia had a final push, we got numbers back and blocks from Keogh and Doherty saw the final danger off and when Hourihane finally got released, he headed for the left wing and under pressure rolled the ball down the touchline to eat up the final few seconds to confirm the win and the three points.

Table (Tennis)

The win wasn't the biggest thing to take from this. Had it been a scrappy 1-0, after similar in Gibraltar, then despite being in the same position points wise, legitimate questions would still be being asked and there'd be little sense of change. As it is, the astonishing comeback from Denmark from 3-0 down on 85 minutes to grab a draw leaves us top of the group and with a new sense of optimism and purpose. The fact that the two most influential players on the park in McGoldrick and Whelan wouldn't have been involved without that change in management adds another dimension to the win.

But let's not get overly carried away. This was a team who we seem to have the hex on and there's certainly harder battles ahead. Both Switzerland and Denmark will be far harder tests and we'll have a better idea of how we've developed after the Denmark game in June. Still, you can only beat what's in front of you and it's mission accomplished for this international break.

However, mission is far from accomplished for those of us that believe change is also necessary at board level. While the protests on Tuesday certainly kept things in the news cycle for a few extra days, this feels like only the beginning. With an Oireachtas Committee hearing due to occur on April 10th, this momentum needs to be continued. If you have concerns over recent and not so recent revelations then raise issues with those politicians involved or with the media. If there's one thing politicians like it's a bandwagon and if they feel the wind is blowing a certain direction, you can be sure they'll tilt their sails that way.

Having seen the landscape move in terms of what we witnessed on the pitch, let's see how it looks when we return in June.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Gone With The Wind?

Where to start with the last week in Irish football? Is it a case that the winds of change that appear to be blowing in the direction of the FAI are of similar strength to the gale blowing across Gibraltar Airport and the Victoria Stadium that reduced Saturday's game into the realms of farce? Or is this a situation that will blow over with a quick board reshuffle and change of job title?

From this fan's perspective, the start of a new campaign usually offers the possibility of change. New locations to visit and new players to watch are almost always guaranteed and on those occasions when there's new management that throws another variable into the mix. In fact, the lack of new locations plus a lack of available time off had meant that I passed on the return visits to Wales and Denmark in the Nations League.

So when the draw for the European Championship qualifiers proper was made, a trip to Gibraltar, a place I'd be unlikely to visit otherwise, was an attractive proposition. With flights to Malaga booked early, the whole phoney war about whether or not the game might be moved to Faro where I'd already seen us play the same opposition in the Euro '16 qualifiers caused a bit of concern but once the game was confirmed to go ahead on the Rock, I'd been looking forward to getting some Mediterranian springtime sun into the bones.

Our flights to Malaga the day before the game went off uneventfully and there'd been a minibus arranged to transport a few other like-minded souls from YBIG that had arrived in through various routes from Malaga down to La Línea de la Concepción, the town on the Spanish side of the border. With Gibraltar still a disputed territory, taxis can't cross the border so it was left to us to wander across what's essentially an airport runway in the shadow of the Rock itself to the town once we'd gone through border control.

The Rock and the Runway

To be honest, once we'd stepped off the bus, I'd already realised that the prospect of that springtime sun was looking remote but by the time we started walking over and got our first blast of the wind that was forecast to hang around for the weekend, I pretty much gave up on it there and then. I'm not kidding, it could nearly lift you off your feet! The road into the town genuinely doubles as the airport runway so it's as open to the elements as can be and the temperatures that had been in the twenties the previous week were nowhere to be seen.

The fact that we were booked to stay on a boat docked in the Marina also added an extra layer of intrigue to our arrival and after meeting a few of our advance guard who'd been making their way from various locations around Europe in a bar called The Ship, appropriately enough, we were shown to where we were berthed and gingerly made our way across a gangplank that seemed very insecure and onto a boat that seemed a lot smaller than the yachts pictured on the website we'd booked it through!

Insecure is a word that could also have been used to describe the position of one John Delaney, the erstwhile CEO of the FAI over the previous week. Revelations that he had taken a trip to the high court to try and prevent the publication of Mark Tighe's piece detailing a payment of €100,000 from Delaney into the association's accounts and back again in 2017 had created a storm of another kind which hadn't abated all week.

Legitimate questions relating to why an association which had reported a turnover of over €50m the previous year couldn't source credit of €100,000 through its regular banking sources hadn't been answered with any clarity by the multiple press statements issued on an almost daily basis by the FAI. Rumours relating to his future had also been circulating all week but exactly what might follow was clear as mud.

Those issues, along with Declan Rice's ill-advised tweets coming to light and Jon Walter's retirement were dominating the bar-room discussions when we made our way back to The Ship with what can safely be called differing attitudes towards each player the order of the day.

There was also plenty of general chit chat about the history of the place with some of the locals. There's an interesting attitude there with a clear dislike of Spain despite the fact that some of the people we spoke to had a Spanish parent. But the attitude to Britan is fairly nuanced as well with more than one telling me that they'd sooner be independent but have to depend on the UK to prevent Spain just rolling them over.

We then headed up to the town to try and find some food and finished off in a local bar for a nightcap before another wobbly trip over the gangway and into bed.

Not so Kool and the Gang-plank

With three couples and two kids staying on the yacht (and there's a whole other story I could write about that boat) and a fairly heavy swell in the Marina, there were more than a few moments where sleep was interrupted by the bobbing up and down and noises of masts and ropes being blown against each other but once we were up, we had the afternoon to take in a bit more of the locality.

It's definitely a bit of an unusual experience to be walking around an area geographically in the south of Spain with orange trees and all the fauna associated with that area visible but to see bright red postboxes and coppers with traditional bobby's caps on them. Especially when a cable car up one part of the Rock brings you to a wildlife park complete with a tribe of macaque monkeys lording it over the place.

As adjectives go, cheeky is an understatement when it came to these characters. In our hour wandering around, we saw an ice cream and a bag of crisps getting pilfered from unsuspecting fans and calmly polished off! Having experienced similar on a visit to the Nagano Snow Monkey Park during the Japan World Cup, the victims of such larceny had my sympathy!

Unfinished Monkey Business

Having managed to take in the vista without getting blown off the sides, we managed to safely navigate the cable car journey back down and made our way back to the marina where a fan zone had been set up with big screens for those without tickets to watch the game. The usual faces were present and correct and the 6pm kick-off made a nice change from the more regular continental 8.45.

View from a hill

A couple of hours of mingling passed quickly before it was game time and a misunderstanding relating to my request for a media pass meant that my ticket was for the opposite stand to the bulk of the Irish support. A cheeky attempt to gain entry to the East resulted in me being incorrectly told my ticket had already been used which caused a bit of concern but after telling Louise to head in with everyone else, I managed to get in at the other end of the ground and found a spot beside a Gibraltar fan and his family.

More Kool and the Gang

Team-wise, I was happy enough with the eleven named and the decision to try and accommodate Matt Doherty on the right. As the form Irish player in the Premier League this season, he deserved a chance but dropping the captain for him wasn't a realistic proposition. Given the quality of the opposition then this should have been as good an opportunity as any to try him there in the absence of any friendlies.

I'd thought from as soon as Mick McCarthy was appointed that David McGoldrick would be one to benefit given their history together at Ipswich so it was no surprise to see him named. Sean Maguire has been unlucky with injuries every time he's looked like breaking through so I was glad to see him get a chance. Conor Hourihane has been in good form for Aston Villa as has Enda Stevens for Sheffield United so both warranted inclusion and the rest of the team looked solid. The team certainly looked good enough to win comfortably.

However, looking and doing are two different things and it became clear early on that the conditions were going to play far more of a part than originally thought. The hosts played with the wind and actually started better with a very optimistic shout for a penalty after a Liam Walker shot was blocked by Shane Duffy's upper body. A free kick from the same player that flew over Darren Randolph's goal soon followed before Ireland got any sort of foothold and the sight and noise of the 6.05 Easyjet flight to Luton roaring down the runway added to the sense of surreality.

In plane sight

A couple of Irish chances followed with a McGoldrick show over the bar and a goalmouth scramble finally falling to Richard Keogh but his poked effort didn't trouble Kyle Goldwin. Every time the ball went into the air the wind was catching it which meant the Irish player's decisions to make every sixth or seventh pass airborne was maddening.

My seat was directly behind the bench and that decision making was clearly infuriating McCarthy on the sideline with regular roars at the players being lost in the gale. When the ball was kept on the deck there were some reasonable passages of play but nothing really coherent enough to make a breakthrough look likely.

McCarthy's Bark

This was perfectly illustrated by a McGoldrick crossfield pass around 25 minutes in that seemed to be heading towards Keogh until the wind blew it straight into Goodwin's arms and another pass aimed towards James McClean that changed direction mid-flight to drift out.

With Ireland now dominating possession, a succession of corners followed but even controlling those was difficult with half chances for Doherty and Maguire coming and going and it was actually through a Gibraltar player that Ireland's best chance arrived. A Coleman cross swirled in the wind and Roy Chipolina lost the flight of the ball leaving Goodwin to go full length to tip his defensive header over the bar. Again, the corner came to nought.

Rock on

Coleman and Doherty were beginning to combine somewhat on the right which was where most of Ireland's pressure was building unlike McClean on the left who seemed to be having one of those off-nights. Again, he was not being helped by long balls being sent his direction and one of the few occasions he managed to get control of the ball, he had his legs taken by Lee Casciaro who was promptly booked for his trouble.

Clearly not satisfied with Casciaro's punishment, McClean then took the opportunity to exact his own retribution a minute or so later picking up a needless booking just before half time. The whistle for the break swiftly followed and worrying talk started turning to whether this could replace Jack Charlton's 1995 draw in Liechtenstein as Ireland's worst ever result.

After moving a few rows to sit with a few Irish fans for the second half, our fears nearly came closer to realisation in the first minute after the restart. Gibraltar immediately won a corner from which Roy Chipolina met perfectly with a header. Every one of us thought the net was about to bulge only for Randolph to somehow claw the ball clear. It really was a sensational save from the Bray man and one that turned out to be a game changer two minutes later.

It was Randolph again who started the decisive move of the game by weighting a lovely pass to McClean. For once, the flight of the ball was true and McClean took a lovely touch to bring the ball under control before laying it off to Hourihane. Hourihane then played a ball slightly over the top which the wind bent into the box where McGoldrick was escaping the attention of Roy Chipolina.

An unselfish pull back from McGoldrick to where Jeff Hendrick was arriving into the box was all that was needed and Hendrick calmly stroked the ball into the corner beyond the dive of Goodwin. One nil Ireland and maybe now the team could push on and put the part-timers to bed.

Well, that was the hope but it wasn't long evaporating as the game reverted to the scrappy nature of the first half before long. Gibraltar tried to push forward in the immediate aftermath without really creating anything and while Ireland were keeping the ball on the deck a little more, we weren't really creating anything either.

Coleman hit the deck in the Gibraltar area leading to a half-hearted penalty shout but nothing was given. Doherty's evening ended early as he was hooked for Robbie Brady on 56 minutes with McCarthy obviously deciding that his experiment to shoehorn Doherty and Coleman into the same XI wasn't worth persisting with. Shane Duffy ended up prone on the ground after a collision with the second Chipolina brother, Joe, during a goalmouth scramble just before the hour mark. Gibraltar tried a couple of pot shots that didn't trouble Randolph but shouldn't have been let happen regardless.

Sean Maguire exited the fray on 70 minutes to be replaced by Harry Arter. The fact that we were replacing a striker with a midfielder spoke volumes and though McGoldrick moved further forward, we seemed to be settling for 1-0 very early. Another Walker pot shot was blocked by Keogh but that 1-0 lead wasn't looking particularly secure.

A Hourihane corner on 84 minutes was caught by the wind and nearly dropped in but Goodwin punched clear as the threat from Gibraltar's little spell subsided. Duffy really should have finished things off in the last minute after getting on the end of a Hourihane free. The fact he didn't, meant the 3 minutes stoppage time were a little nervy but they were seen out comfortably. The best that could be said was that Ireland at least had the win.

While Mick McCarthy's second reign had begun with 3 points, it was becoming clear leaving the stadium that the result and poor performance wouldn't be the main story involving Irish football the following morning.

Rumours had been circulating before and during the game that yet another FAI announcement was forthcoming and that this one related to John Delaney stepping down. While nobody really thought that likely, nor did most think that what eventually emerged was likely either.

The statement when it emerged around 8pm did indeed confirm that "a new Chief Executive should be recruited."

However, it also stated that the FAI would be "creating a new role of Executive Vice-President" and that "the new role of Executive Vice-President would be a specific defined role with responsibility for a range of international matters and special projects on behalf of the FAI. It is envisaged that the current CEO would step into this new role. This would allow Irish football to continue to benefit from his extensive football experience and contacts across Europe and the rest of the world."

Ted talks

Given that a 'The money was resting in their account' flag was flown during the game, Delaney's own part of the statement seemed to be the equivalent of Fr. Joe Briefly's letter in Fr. Ted's Flight into Terror episode when various priests wrote out why they should get the only parachutes on board the doomed jet. "I think I should get the parachute because I'm great." Only this time, rather than disapproving grumbles from the rest of the priests on board, everyone seemed to agree how great John was.

In fact, he was so great that his new role would "include all Fifa and Uefa matters including membership of the Uefa Executive Committee, all FAI tournament bidding projects, international relations and support, the John Giles Foundation, membership of the Board of the Aviva Stadium, planning for the centenary of the FAI and the 50th anniversary of women’s football in Ireland in 2023 and a bid to host the UEFA Women’s Champions League final in Dublin,

“The new Executive Vice-President will also work on special projects as agreed by the Board and the new Chief Executive and will be available to the CEO for assistance.”

Now, to me, that reads eerily similar to a job spec for a CEO role. Precisely what new CEO, Rea Walshe, who is stepping up from her Chief Operating Officer role, is left to do remains to be seen. Such are the vagaries of corporate governance in Ireland, let alone Irish football.

Having digested that news on heading back to the marina for some dinner and post-match craic, another Sunday Times story dropped exposing the fact that in addition to his €360,000 salary, a rental allowance of €3,000 per month to rent out a home in Malahide initially before moving to Gráinne Seoige's house in Wicklow had been paid for three years.

While, again, there is no law against companies paying for accommodation for Chief Executives and the payments were declared for benefit in kind, it's not a good look during a period when other staff had gone through a redundancy and pay cut process. Previous CEO, Fran Rooney confirmed afterwards that he received no such allowance during his tenure.

Where things go from here remains to be seen. For us, we spent the rest of the night chatting to some sound local supporters in The Ship before heading up to a late night bar called The Hendrix to take in a couple of hours of the sort of shenanigans around singing and acting the maggot that my younger days on tour used to fully consist of. By the time it hit 2.30, enough was enough and with a trip for an overnighter in Malaga the next day in the offing, it was back across the gangway for one last time and a few hours sleep on the boat that rocked.

Where things develop on both fronts should become clearer as the week goes on. The team and management, at least, can point to a win and highlight the difficult conditions and lack of time spent working with each other before going straight into a competitive game. I don't feel that argument holds enough water personally given the opposition but the Georgia performance will tell us a lot more.

What happens at board level also remains up in the air but with that Oireachtas Committee hearing due to happen on April 10th, it's fairly certain that stories will continue to emerge between then and now. Until then, let's Rock.