IT DIDN’T END the way we had hoped it would.
Very far from it actually.
We’ll not speak of that November night at the Aviva and how Christian Eriksen broke Irish hearts and shattered the World Cup dream.
There’ll be no Russia 2018. But there is that saying, ‘It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey’.
And what a journey it was. One of ups and downs, highs and lows, and absolutely no shortage of permutations. Here’s a look back at just some of the best bits, in no order:
1. THAT goal in Cardiff
Possibly the most memorable moment of the entire Irish sporting year. 56 minutes on the clock, the deadlock yet to be broken.
Superb work from Jeff Hendrick down the right side, an excellent cross and an absolute belter from James McClean to seal a play-off place.
A thing of beauty. Go on, watch it once more:
2. Shane Long hugging Seamus Coleman
The only image of Seamus Coleman that needed to be seen following his horrific leg break back in March.
Shane Long’s wife revealed after that the striker employed breathing techniques used during her pregnancy to help Coleman through the pain. What a moment in the middle of all of the madness.
3. MON and TOD and those post-match interviews
Well, there was never any love lost between the pair.
There was the interview following the 1-1 draw in Georgia. Martin O’Neill was far from impressed with Tony O’Donoghue’s line of questioning in the RTÉ interview, and went on the defensive. Here’s a snippet of the conversation:
TOD: “Can you put your finger on why that might have been?”
MON: “I can, yes. Of course I can.”
TOD: “Are you going to share that with us?”
MON:“There’s no point.”
MON: “Why? Well, why would I want to share it with you?”
There was another tetchy post-match interview after their final fixture, one which ended in O’Neill cutting it short.
“Let me finish” — enough said.
4. Remembering Ryan McBride
The late Ryan McBride was remembered accordingly at the Aviva back in March.
Close friend and former teammate James McClean wore the number five jersey in his honour. The Welsh visitors also pulled off a lovely gesture before kick-off as they presented President Michael D Higgins with a number five jersey.
There was also a moment’s applause before kick-off and in the fifth minute.
5. One of our own
The FAI and Irish fans all came together in November in support of Cyrus Christie after it emerged that he was racially abused online.
He was targeted on Twitter after Ireland’s 5-1 play-off loss to Denmark, but players, fans and associations alike rallied around the Middlesborough defender in unity.
6. Jon Walters’ volley goal
Another one of Ireland’s top goals from the campaign, Walters smashed home a late volley to secure a goal against Austria.
Along ball was sent forward and after a race for possession, Walters found himself in a one-on-one situation. He took a second to compose himself and rifled a volley into the bottom corner of the net.
What a strike.
7. Rage, rage against the dying of the light!
RTÉ’s montage in which Brendan Gleeson starred with an inspiring poem before the second leg against Denmark was one to get everyone in the mood.
Those unforgettable nights reeled in the background — Stuttgart, Giant’s Stadium, Genoa, Lille, Cardiff.
But it’s a pity that night in Dublin was one to forget rather than join the list.
8. Wales singing their anthem in Cardiff
This one’s technically not about Ireland but it was before their clash at Cardiff and was too good to leave out.
Spine-tingling, to be fair.
9. The Dunphy-Wes-Gilesy love triangle
It’s no secret that Eamon Dunphy loves Wes Hoolahan. He got riled up more than once over Hoolahan’s omission in starting line-ups and praised him to no end time and time again.
He even called him his ‘love child’ once. Jokingly…… but not really.
“Wes Hoolahan should always play when he’s available,” as Dunphy said after the 1-0 defeat to Serbia in September. Simple as.
And Giles was always first to agree with his fellow analyst.
10. That goal that made us think we were going to Russia
The scenes in the Aviva as Ireland went 1-0 up after just six minutes. Robbie Brady’s free-kick eventually found the head of Shane Duffy and into the back of the net then to send Ireland fans into ecstasy.
The best of times before the worst of times.
And so, we go again.
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