Pundits in RTE's Sport Department were unanimous in their opinion of Ireland's surprise victory over Holland last week. After a brief discussion in the wake of the final whistle, a panel consisting of John Giles, Eamonn Dunphy and Liam Brady concurred with moderator Bill O'Herlihy as to the reason for Ireland's success.
"At the end of the day, we were a man down, we got a goal and we held on and didn't let them score," pronounced Liam Brady after much thought. O'Herlihy agreed with the substance of Brady's summary, but felt there to be something lacking in its content. "Would you agree with me, gentlemen," he challenged the panel, "that the goal from Jason McAteer in the sixty-seventh minute was really the turning-point of the match?"
John Giles stepped in at this juncture. "Well there's no doubt about it whatsoever, Bill," he said. "Up until that point it looked like a draw, but as soon as we got a goal we knew we had a chance of winning."
Eamonn Dunphy interjected at this point to make clear that while he had never 'held any brief' for McAteer, it was good that he had scored a goal. "As a striker," he said, "you know better than anyone that a team can't win unless they score goals."
The four men then discussed the significance of McAteer having chosen to hit the shot with his right foot. "You see, McAteer, he's gone in, it's a lovely ball, and he's just hit it with his right peg there, kept it down, and that's one-nil," enthused John Giles. "Yes," replied Dunphy. "That's what you have to do if you want to score a goal. What we've learned today is that this is a team of footballers, of football players".
On a wider strategic note, O'Herlihy drew attention to the unexpectedly successful defence formation employed by manager Mick McCarthy. "Towards the end of the match, Holland began bringing on more and more strikers", he mused. "So it seems apparent that they wanted to equalize." The panel accepted O'Herlihy's analysis. "More than any other part of the Irish team out there," began Liam Brady, "the Irish defence was instrumental in not letting the Dutch score."
"I have to say," concluded Dunphy, "that while I've been critical of Ireland's defence in the past, today they reached a level of ability of near-international standard. They were almost the only thing standing between us and defeat."
As a closer, O'Herlihy posed the question: "Has this match, perhaps, vindicated McCarthy's tenure in the top spot?" Liam Brady didn't understand the question, and so said nothing. John Giles felt that finally McCarthy could be proud. "As he said himself, they can scrap, and they can play." "They certainly can," agreed O'Herlihy. "They certainly can."