Good lord Jesus Christ and Mary mother of Moses that was an absolutely brutal year, wasn’t it?
Paddy’s not one for exaggeration, but the national team’s form in 2018 was probably the worst thing to happen to Ireland since Oliver Cromwell cruised over to the Emerald Isle all the way back in 1649.
To be fair to Old Ironsides, though, even the vast extent of his murderous cruelty paled in comparison to watching Cyrus Christie play centre-mid in a defensive 3-5-2.
Take a look at Ireland’s last five results: 0-0, 0-0, 0-1, 0-0, 1-1. A sequence that only a rabid fan of the binary numeric system could love. In 2018, the team scored four goals. No really, four goals. In a year. And three of them came in friendlies.
So that’s one competitive goal in a 365-day period.
Oh, and that goal also came in a 4-1 defeat to a very average Welsh team who were made to look like 1970 Brazil.
All of which would be slightly more tolerable if the football on offer from Martin O’Neill’s team wasn’t so painfully, excruciatingly dull. Sure, the players aren’t exactly world-beaters, but you’d see more panache and dynamism from an over-35s office 5-a-side team pitching up at a Sunday morning tournament after a night spent downing kegs of liquified LSD.
Apart from a brief period around the turn of the millennium under the returning Mick McCarthy, Ireland have rarely been a great side to watch. But that misses the point a touch. No-one expects them to play like Pep’s Barca; the demand from most people is simply that they try to do something other than lump the ball 60 yards every time they have possession.
As it is, every time Darren Randolph gets the ball, minute-by-minute reporters start reaching for their “booming clearance” template. All that most Ireland fans want is to feel there’s more than a 3% chance he’ll consider kicking the ball less than 50 feet into the air or, god forbid, use his hands to distribute the thing.
That’s no criticism of Randolph, though. He’s been one of the team’s best players over the past few years, which says rather a lot. Other standout performers include Tony O’Donoghue, Stephen Ward, whose Whatsapp voice-message was pretty much the best thing to happen to the national team since Euro 2016, and Declan Rice, who cleverly decided it would be better simply just not to play.
Still, all things considered, 2019 will be better.
Mainly because it couldn’t get any worse, but also because O’Neill and his “leadership group” have departed. McCarthy should be able to bring back the good vibes, even if the football only improves marginally.
In the meantime, we’re left to ruminate on what was the annus horribilis to end all anni horribiles for Irish football.