Richard the Lionheart saves our Euro dream
IN THE early hours of the morning, Titan Airways flight ZT3082, or as it was renamed overnight 'The Miracle from Moscow', touched down in Dublin.
On board was the new messiah of Irish football. No, not Giovanni Trapattoni or Robbie Keane, but Richard Dunne.
The player who conquered the former Red Soviets in their own back yard gave a performance that even had Paul McGrath licking his lips.
"The best performance I have seen from any Irish centre half and that includes myself," McGrath said of Dunne's heroics in the 0-0 draw with Russia, keeping alive Ireland's chances of qualifying for next year's Euro championships.
"A few young people around him, a few inexperienced people, he had to be a leader and boy did he step up to the plate. I thought he was magnificent, out of this world," added the Irish legend, adored by fans as The Black Pearl.
"The Irish players just seemed determined to throw themselves in the way, block everything and you have to mention Shay as well, the first couple of saves were fantastic."
Ireland supporters, many of whom were there with the team for the tears and terror of Paris, the failures in Switzerland and Israel and those play-off defeats in Belgium, Turkey and France, were still scratching their heads on the metro journey back into central Moscow and asking: 'How the hell did we get away with that?'
Of course some more wins instead of nil-nil draws would turn Ireland from a defensively-solid outfit into a team really capable of challenging for a tournament.
Rarely will a team be outplayed for so long and still manage to escape unharmed -- the visible facial injury to Richard Dunne after his unfortunate clash with the running track in the old stadium proof that some people are willing to shed blood, if needed, for their country.
The idea that luck was on our side, and that Trapattoni is a lucky manager, was given more backing hours after the final whistle in Moscow.
As the Irish waited in Moscow's Domodedovo airport to head home -- minus Aidan McGeady as he had said his goodbyes as he returned to his own gaff in Moscow -- news came through of a goal rush in Zilina. It was there that the Slovaks -- who made Ireland look ordinary in Dublin on Friday -- crumbled and fell apart, losing 4-0 to an Armenian side who have really found form at the tail end of the qualifiers.
So we can draw comfort. Just as our home results against Russia (2-3) and Slovakia (0-0) are painful on the eyes, the result which Ireland achieved in Armenia, a 1-0 win, looks rather tasty, as Armenia could end up having a huge say in this group.
It's a most unpredictable group, as Ireland could possibly win the group or finish fourth. Should Slovakia win at home to the Russians next month, Ireland topping the group -- and we've only ever done that once in our history -- is possible.
Should Russia win in Slovakia, then Ireland could secure a place in the play-offs with a draw to Armenia.
Tense times ahead but some are feeling more pleased with themselves today. Other supporters celebrated big-time last night: as the rest of Europe scraps and scrapes to get a place at Euro 2012, some have already done it, and wins last night for Spain and Italy means that they join Germany in already securing qualification for Poland and Ukraine, while Holland and England edged very close.
Ireland's group is now the tightest of the nine, with only Group H, where Portugal, Denmark and Norway are all tied on 13 points, hosting as much drama. But Ireland's bid?
This one will run and run.