IN WHAT HAS been a great, restorative week for Irish football, there was one main pity.
And that was that the 4-0 win didn’t come tonight rather than on Friday.
Although that might have made for a much more nervous, anxious week, the rousing, cleansing nature of the victory in Estonia would have provided a more appropriate crescendo to a magical night off the pitch in which Ireland gleefully celebrated a first qualification in a decade.
Because, in truth, there was barely anything magical on the pitch. That could be forgiven, of course, because of the fact that this match was a dead-rubber.
And, by extension, there wasn’t much to actually read into.
But there were a few points of note. The manner in which Stephen Ward overlapped Damien Duff was a new departure for a Trapattoni Irish team and helped created a few alternative angles and options that have otherwise been lacking. As such, the team put together a few pleasing passing moves – particularly in the first half.
Elsewhere, after recent doubt about his starting place, Kevin Doyle reasserted his position with an admirable, driven display. The forward dropped back to link up with Duff well and his header created the chaos that led to Ward’s goal – a deserved reward for the defender too.
John O’Shea’s understated solidity also underlined why it’s so reassuring to have him at right-back rather than the error-prone Paul McShane or Stephen Kelly.
But that’s not to say the night was without a few negatives: most notably Estonia’s goal.
You wouldn’t have begrudged them it except for the fact that it represented the second time in successive home games that Shay Given has been beaten by a soft long shot. It’s certainly something Trapattoni is going to have to look into over the next few months, especially since he made a similar error against Norwich.
Likewise, Trapattoni is going to have to find a way around the team’s troubling tendency to cede midfield and command of games in the second half. It happened yet again tonight, with Estonia pinging the ball around at will.
Of course, all of this must be qualified by the fact that, in essence, Ireland had already qualified. The fact that it was a dead rubber of a game meant it didn’t have the same intensity or focus. As such, it probably didn’t give a fair reflection of either the team or Ireland’s evolution.
And Trapattoni now has six months to rectify any wrongs for Euro 2012.
Because, really, that was what tonight was all about: Ireland are back on the big stage.