Opinion: Little gained from sterile phony war 6 years ago

Opinion: Little gained from sterile phony war

It’s still twenty years since England played in Dublin.

Forget what you seen today or what people will tell you, forget that today’s fixture will be recorded in official records. The game between Ireland and England was about as much of a non-event imaginable. Even by the standards of international friendlies, this was tame.
All the talk leading up to the fixture was of the abandoned game at the same venue twenty years ago. It’s been said that the past is a different country, but, judging by today’s game, and the atmosphere around Dublin 4, 1995 is a different planet. Of course, in some, obvious, aspects, this is a good thing. No right minded person wants to witness a stadium being teared apart, and the state of the art Aviva is an aesthetic upgrade on the old Lansdowne Road.

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But, when the England manager is thankful for the subdued atmosphere, in this context, what one might regard progress, is really just another word for sterile. This game lacked any edge.

From the overpowering boom of the PA system, featuring Dropkick Murphys on repeat, to the MC shouting into the microphone, the half and half scarves on sale and the gentile atmosphere all round, the game, and almost everything around today’s game felt artificial. Any worries about England fans chanting offensive songs proved to be unfounded, and it’s difficult to remember them doing anything other than stare at the non-action and look bemused.

Three International Friendly, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 7/6/2015 Republic of Ireland vs England Ireland's Daryl Murphy with Jack Wilshere of England Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy Three International Friendly, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 7/6/2015
Republic of Ireland vs England
Ireland's Daryl Murphy with Jack Wilshere of England
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

For the Irish fans, the biggest cheer of the day came when Joe Hart slipped. The biggest cheer all round came when former Ireland manager, and England World Cup winner, Jack Charlton was presented before kick-off.

‘Put em Under Pressure’ then relentlessly drowned out the cheers around the stadium, the fans rose to their feet to applaud, and the match started. Not a lot happened after that. John O’Shea and Marc Wilson were mostly comfortable throughout, cementing their status as Ireland’s first choice pairing in central defence and Glenn Whelan was the pick of Ireland’s midfielders.

David McGoldrick showed some impressive close control, and the potential to link-up with his team-mates, if all too infrequent. While Daryl Murphy won most of his headers, and Aiden McGeady offered defensive cover and Robbie Brady’s showed that his set-pieces alone may just warrant inclusion at left-back.

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However, there was little else of note for Ireland and it’s difficult to see what has been gained, or learned, ahead of an era defining game. Other than match practice or boosting the associations coffers. O'Neill’s selection appeared brave, with two strikers, wingers and attack minded full-backs, but it was difficult to gleam any sort of effective game plan or tactical approach. The midfield rarely showed for the ball, which was mostly played long towards Ireland’s front two anyway, lost and not backed up with any pressure.

Three International Friendly, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 7/6/2015 Republic of Ireland vs England England's James Milner and Jeff Hendrick of Ireland Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer Three International Friendly, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 7/6/2015
Republic of Ireland vs England
England's James Milner and Jeff Hendrick of Ireland
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

England played their part in the monotony. Wayne Rooney looks like he left his first touch on the beach, Raheem Sterling looked like he wished he was on a beach and Jack Wilshere has put more effort into trolling Spurs fans. At least the Three Lions can sleepwalk their way past Slovenia and arrive safely in France next summer, Ireland have no such luxury.

After the game O'Neill said the game was ‘exactly what we needed’ and the game was ‘good for us from a physical viewpoint’, but fans who forked out €70 wanted more than a glorified training exercise. This was the phoniest of phony wars, and, from an Irish point of view, hopefully just the calm before the storm.

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