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Sultans soundtrack an unforgettable evening in Cardiff

10 October 2017 14:10
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Sultans soundtrack an unforgettable evening in Cardiff

Planes, trains and automobiles brought the masses to the Welsh capital for Ireland’s final group game of the World Cup qualifiers.

With flights into Cardiff sky-rocketing, the way only airlines know how, the inventive Irish came through Holyhead and Fishguard by the old school ferry, while every other city airport within a six-pack was hit to bring the Boys and Girls in Green into Cardiff central station.

From early morning, the Irish assembled on the pedestrianised streets around the city centre, the unseasonably mild October Monday adding to the atmosphere as the Cardiff taverns were tested and tasted.

The Irish arrive into Cardiff every other year in early spring to partake in a spot of rugby and general jovialities, so the local landlords knew what to expect from their Celtic cousins.

The pubs were ambushed from opening time and some had not some had not planned their stocktaking sufficiently, running out of beer by early afternoon.

The outdoor setting allowed for that age-old footballing tradition of procuring a bag of cans from the local off licence or supermarket and joining the masses outside one of the chosen Irish pubs for the usual mix of singsongs and tomfoolery.

The Welsh were anticipating no problems. The obligatory riot vans, packed with robocops, were stationed out of sight - an easy day’s overtime for the local constabulary.

While the Irish were caught in the moment, the Welsh were looking ahead.

They had this one. Chris Coleman had said as much the day before at the press conference.

They had the players - even if the messiah was missing - they had the systems, they had the home support, all was fine.

So still several hours before kick-off, it was time for this sober soul to make towards the stadium, the home of Cardiff City FC.

The wander to the stadium, about 25 minutes at a steady pace, proved just perfect for to ponder possible proceedings.

Had the match been played at the stadium formerly known as the Millennium, the journey would have been mere minutes as the rugby arena sits on the banks of the River Taff, superbly central, but thankfully the 74,500-capacity behemoth was overlooked for this particular occasion.

So heading along the never-ending stretch of terraced houses that run the length of Ninian Park Road, it was time to focus on this most-important of matches.

Of course, the must-win encounter had been on the mind all week but the reality was now sinking in, anything other than a victory, and there would be no Irish involvement in the World Cup next summer, while Euro 2020 still appeared a long, long way away.

The Spotify shuffle was providing the soundtrack for the march to the ground - about a similar length from Dublin city centre to Lansdowne - as the arriving Welsh masses were walking against, back into town to join the Irish for some pre-match lubrication.

"Give him a ball and a yard of grass," twanged the inimitable Niall O’Flaherty.

For whatever reason, the trusty music megastore decided to throw a bit of The Sultans of Ping FC into the mix, but the timing proved perfect.

The song, of course, is a tribute, of sorts, to Martin O’Neill’s former boss Brian Clough and the Ireland manager would have to match the brilliance of the former Nottingham Forest gaffer to pull off the victory in Cardiff.

"If God meant game to be played up high, he would've built goalposts in the sky," continued the Sultans.

Now this is where mentor and student part ways as Clough liked his team to play football the way that soothed the senses and pleased the purists.

O’Neill, as we have enjoyed/endured over the past four years, is a results man and his job is based on such scenarios, by hook or by set-piece delivery.

Inside the stadium media zone, it was a who’s who of former Welsh footballers, as the old boys club assembled to see the current crop get one step closer to what they could not achieve, nor any other side in the past 60 years.

It was 1958 since Wales last played in the World Cup and this "golden era" of players, as their manager called them, were surely the ones to deliver this holiest of grails.

The confidence was pouring out of the manager and assembled media the day previous, as the local hacks asked questions of post-match parties and guitar-based gatherings.

Coleman, an inspiring sort for certain, got an easy ride from the Welsh media who were loath to ask why a team like his, that reached the semi-finals of the Euros last summer had only managed one win of note in this campaign, a group lacking a real superpower of European football.

Wales of course were meant to be that star side in Group D, but the withdrawal of Gareth Bale had dealt a real blow to the home team ahead of this game.

As kick-off approached, the beautifully compact stadium began to fill up and the decibel levels pushed higher and higher in those minutes before the teams entered the arena.

Another ploy by the Welsh to raise the intensity worked a charm as just the first few bars of the national anthem were played before allowing the always in-tune Welsh fans enhance it to spine-tingling levels.

And the players responded, taking the game to Ireland for those frantic opening exchanges.

Ireland, camped in their own half, yet backed by their passionate travelling fans defending that end of the ground directly behind Darren Randolph.

Gradually the Irish started to get a foothold in the game and then Wales were hit with another blow, as the gifted Joe Allen had to depart.

Suddenly it was an even contest as half-time came and went and Ireland still very much in the game.

Mayhem ensued in the Irish end and around the ground little dots of green - tickets procured in the away end somehow - lifted the roof off the stadium.

But the battle was just beginning for this Irish side as they endeavoured to hold on to a 1-0 lead for almost 40 minutes.

"A man can't have no greater love, than give 90 minutes to his friends."

The Sultans were now bringing the biblical references into it. Football, being a religion of sorts, and the players were certainly serving their penance as Wales were punishing O’Neill’s disciples with a relentless attack on the Ireland goal.

Those five minutes of injury time appeared to last a lifetime, but eventually the man in the middle called time and Ireland rejoiced.

The assembled masses awaited O’Neill’s arrival for some post-match thoughts on what had just happened on the green, green grass outside.

Source: rte.ie

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