By the time Ireland had got the full measure of Wales, the win was probably already beyond them.
A tentative first half in which both sides were largely pedestrian save for a few speculative efforts gave way to a second in which there was, at least, more urgency. The task of nullifying Gareth Bale was largely a successful one, and while Joe Allen at times took charge of the midfield, Wales were never posing a massive threat.
Which, in turn, makes the result that bit more frustrating. Ireland’s performance on the night didn’t deserve the three points, but there was a sense that even slightly more bravery on the ball could have changed the outlook. A midfield containing Glenn Whelan and David Meyler is never going to be the quickest or most creative but that should have been where Jeff Hendrick came in, but the Burnley man was largely anonymous.
James McClean tried valiantly to fill the gap left by the suspended Robbie Brady and injured Wes Hoolahan and Harry Arter, but the absences of those three were felt throughout. Hoolahan in particular, as demonstrated most recently by his defence-splitting pass for McClean’s winner in Vienna, could have made all the difference as the Boys in Green were clearly crying out for a bit of incisiveness in breaching the Welsh rearguard.
Not to suggest that Wales were there for the taking, but this is a side that was outplayed at home by Georgia in their last match, and being reduced to ten men seemed to cause them to lose their shape. It’s easy to say after the fact that introducing Aiden McGeady earlier or perhaps even bringing Preston teammate Daryl Horgan on too would have had a different bearing on the result, but in hindsight, it does appear that “Operation: Stop Bale” had been achieved long before Ireland began to show the invention required to actually win the match.
That being said, a draw is not the worst result regarding the qualification group, not least because it keeps Wales at arm’s length. Victory against Austria in June would effectively make it a two-horse race for the automatic spot, assuming Serbia defeat Wales (minus the suspended Bale) on the same day.
Whether Martin O’Neill will look back on this result as a point gained or two dropped, however, will not become clear until later in the year. The most important thing to keep in mind is that qualification is still entirely in their own hands.
Chris Coleman, meanwhile, was in full defensive mode in his post-match press conference. Leaving aside that he kept bizarrely referring to the match as a “classic British derby,” that the Welsh manager chose to give an unwavering defence of a red-card incident, and another that should have been, spoke volumes.
“None of your boys are coming off with halos” is an extremely unbecoming thing for an international manager to say in the face of such a sickening injury, and regardless of his opinion of Glenn Whelan’s overzealousness (to put it lightly) the Welsh manager should maybe have read the room and considered how insensitive that answer would have come across as.
Coleman described Neil Taylor’s frame of mind as “despondent” after the match. With the greatest of respect to the left-back, nobody cares how he’s feeling. He was able to walk out of the stadium unaided on Friday night. He gets to play for Aston Villa next weekend while Seamus Coleman has to watch the Merseyside derby from a hospital bed.
Adding that “Taylor is not that type of player” is an insult; one doubts that it will be to Seamus Coleman’s eternal relief that the player who temporarily destroyed his leg isn’t normally known for such actions. It also becomes patently obvious that as soon as a player does something like that, they then automatically become that type of player.
It can only be assume, meanwhile, that his planned appeal of Bale’s yellow card is founded in the referee having the sheer audacity to brandish a yellow in the Real Madrid star’s direction, because the foul on John O’Shea could quite easily have been a red if a stricter referee was on the pitch.
Both sides move on now and their prospects for qualification appear, right now at least, to be markedly different. By the time these two meet again in Cardiff in October, at leat one nation could have already seen their destiny decided. Even if Ireland have to get a result in that match, they must surely now see that they are fully capable of doing so.
In the meantime, all we can hope for is that somebody dealt with that trumpet on the way out of the ground.