The fact that a thoroughly dispirited side managed to pick itself off the canvas in the second half, run up 28 points including four tries, and scare the life out of a complacent and exhausted France in the process, is presumably the rationale for the glass being half-full.
The final score of 43-31 gives the impression of a rollicking, end-to-end try fest, and it probably was. The Irish end during the first half, and the French end in the second. For once, there is an entitlement to say that this really was a game of two halves.
If Ireland were claiming a moral victory since they clawed their way back from the depths of a 43-3 deficit soon after the changeover, the truth is that neither coach has been sleeping easy these past few nights.
Bernard Laporte is wondering how his players contrived to almost blow the game from a seemingly impregnable position, while no matter what positive web Eddie O’Sullivan has been trying to weave, his team were hit for 43 points and lost the match.
For the pragmatists, Ireland’s series of schoolboy errors during the first half – against what is clearly not a vintage French side – was infinitely more worrying than the audacity of the second-half fightback. With three games left in the championship, key performers such as Ronan O’Gara, Geordan Murphy, John Hayes and Malcolm O’Kelly are struggling to find both form and confidence, while the new wing Tommy Bowe just looks out of his depth.
This bipolar performance was akin to someone crashing his car a mile from his house and then running home in three minutes 40. The time might have been impressive but the car would still be a wreck.
Yet, O’Sullivan and his squad can now look forward to the visits of both Wales and Scotland to Dublin, because on the evidence of Wales’s unconvincing 28-18 victory over the Scots last Sunday, there is precious little to fear at the moment from Ireland’s Celtic neighbours.
The theory is then, on the back of three wins over Italy, Wales and Scotland, that the Irish could go to London to face England on the last weekend of the championship with genuine hopes of winning both the Six Nations title and the Triple Crown. If you had postulated that notion at half-time in Paris last Saturday, you would have been sedated and led away.
For the all the initial faults such as missed tackles by Murphy and Bowe, such as the confusion when Murphy and Leamy got in a defensive tangle, such as O’Gara having a kick blocked down, and such as Murphy throwing a wild pass which was intercepted for France’s fourth try – “I now know how the Christians in the Colisseum felt,” Murphy later confessed – the Irish response was as inspired as it was unexpected.
When New Zealand reach 40 points with half an hour remaining, their first thought is to score another 40 before the end. France have always lacked that mindset preferring to anticipate the celebration than to inflict more pain, and Ireland took advantage with wave after wave of breathtaking attacks that yielded tries for O’Gara, Gordon D’Arcy, and substitutes Donncha O’Callaghan and Andrew Trimble.
It was an astonishing comeback, but what did it do? Place the paucity of what had gone before into a depressing relief, or act as a shot of confidence in the arm for the challenges ahead? Will the real Ireland please stand up.
The answers will only be revealed during the Wales game at Lansdowne Road on Sunday week, but what is certain in the meantime is that the likes of O’Gara, Murphy, Hayes and O’Kelly appear to be supping at the Last Chance Saloon, while Bowe will almost certainly be replaced by Trimble.
Brian O’Driscoll strained a hamstring, but will be fit to face the Welsh, however, Paul O’Connell, who once again was outstanding, is extremely doubtful after damaging his shoulder. So fragile are Ireland at the moment that the talismanic O’Connell’s absence could tilt the game in Wales’s favor.
O’Sullivan’s team performed poorly last autumn, failed to convince against Italy and has now come up with a deeply flawed masterpiece. A touch confused? Join the club.
Keane swims with small fish
THERE is justifiably an interest in how Roy Keane performs in Scottish soccer’s Premier League. The former Ireland captain and Manchester United star remains an iconic figure. Respected by most, and reviled by a few in his homeland for his controversial exit from the 2002 World Cup finals, Keane is still box-office at 34.
Equally, the frequent tribal contests in Glasgow involving Celtic and Rangers which continue to nourish the city’s sectarian divide between Catholic and Protestant attract significant attention, and with Keane appearing in his first ever ‘Old Firm’ derby last weekend, the stakes were higher than usual.
For the record, Celtic won 1-0 at Rangers in what was by all accounts a drab enough game, however, Keane’s contribution made the headlines. “Keane returns to center stage” trumpeted the Irish Independent, adding that the midfielder’s display was “vintage” while the more sober Irish Times went with, “Dominant Keane sets tone.”
For anyone who saw the match, it was manifest that Keane played adequately. His distribution was assured, he made several telling tackles and despite receiving a yellow card for a second-half challenge, never let a tense occasion fan his notoriously quick temper.
Yet, there was a feeling that he had actually achieved something simply by performing professionally, when in fact, this was soccer of such a modest standard that it represented little more than a stroll for a player of his experience and vision.
The truth is that Scotland’s major competition is currently a two-bit league. Celtic’s win puts them a massive 21 points clear of Rangers who are in fourth place. Celtic are certainly not a team you would pay good money to watch, and you should be paid to watch hapless Rangers at the moment.
If Keane was unable to make an impression in such a prosaic environment, then he should be considering retirement right now and not in 18 months time. And to talk up his display last Sunday is to damn him with faint praise.
If he leads Celtic into the prestigious European Champions League next season, and if the club reaches the knockout stages, then that would be a fitting curtain-call for someone who once was a great player.
Anything else is simply nothing to shout about.
Will GAA fudge fracas?
No one is quite sure whether the GAA’s decision to take its time investigating the disgraceful brawls during the recent National League game between Tyrone and Dublin is a sign of some serious intent on behalf of the association or whether it’s the beginning of a fudge.
A three-man sub-committee is currently analysing video evidence of the fighting at Healy Park in Omagh which resulted in four players being sent off and a total of 14 yellow cards being shown by referee Paddy Russell. There have been suggestions that both counties could face point deductions following the violence, while it seems certain that several players will be hit with suspensions.
Last weekend’s football action was altogether more tranquil it appears. Only one mass brawl this time between Derry and Wexford at Wexford Park where more than 20 players exchanged hostilities. Three were subsequently sent off.
No TV cameras, no fuss.
Kerr enraged by Delaney interview
Justwhat is it about the FAI? Irish soccer’s governing body doesn’t do harmony. For an association that has experienced more blood-letting than all of Dublin’s abbatoirs combined, it seemed as if peace had broken out with the appointment of a strong chief executive in John Delaney last year, and more recently with the appointment of a new national manager in Steve Staunton.
Then Delaney goes and gives an interview to a newspaper in which he claimed that Damien Duff had said Ireland had been “playing like a pub team”, and the chief executive also suggested that when Switzerland came to Dublin, “There was no fear in their eyes. There was no fear of intimidation coming to Lansdowne Road. That wasn’t supposed to happen.”
A reasonable analysis of Ireland’s failure to qualify for the World Cup finals? Certainly not in the eyes of former manager Brian Kerr. Within hours of Delaney’s comments, Kerr had issued legal proceedings against the FAI alleging defamation and breach of confidence.
It seems that when Kerr’s contract expired at the end of the qualifying campaign, the FAI paid him a sum of money to maintain a dignified silence about his time as manager. However, the deal was to cut two ways, and an angry Kerr is adamant that the Delaney has reneged on his side of the bargain.
In recent years, other former FAI staff have been paid off to keep shtum. Might this be yet another case of more cash that should have spent on soccer being used to clean up one more mess?