IT'S over, thank God. Loud cheers, numerous tobacco spits, a chorus of hosannas from the heavenly choirs.
Ireland's Euro 2008 qualifying campaign ended in Cardiff yesterday.
True, many will respond that it had ended quite some time previously, maybe as far back as Cyprus 13 months ago, but let's not pick nits. This was definitely the end of the line, the train to Cork had long since pulled out and we . . . or such among us as could still be bothered to tune in . . . were waiting on the embassy roof for the last helicopter out of Saigon.
Not before we discovered what John Giles (right), the most of unlikely of conspirators, had been up to of late, though.
Bill O'Herlihy rightly opened the buildup by asking what was going on. Giles, wearing a grey suit rather than a cloak and dagger, replied that he'd sounded out Paul Jewell on behalf of the FAI. A potential conflict of interests, Bill enquired? "If it comes to a stage where I feel . . . or, more importantly, my employers feel . . . there's a conflict, I'd withdraw from the panel, " Giles answer with equanimity. In chimed Eamon Dunphy (of course): "If he withdraws from the panel, I'll withdraw from the panel." Right on, comrade.
Cue a chorus of approval from striking Dublin Bus workers everywhere.
Naturally Dunphy approved of Giles's role in the process of finding a replacement for Steve Staunton. "There's been a sea change, " he announced; the FAI were now trying to get all the best candidates rather than "the unemployed or the unemployable or the insane".
Guess this rules out Graeme Souness, possibly on all three counts.
For his part Liam Brady reckoned that Jewell ticked all the right boxes and added that he himself wasn't involved in the manouevring behind the scenes. "I won't be part of the three wise men."
Dunphy: "I will!"
Bill: "You won't be asked."
Giles: "He said 'wise men', Eamonf" Over then to Cardiff, where Ireland, in their third strip of gunmetal-grey, took on a Welsh side which may have been missing Bale and Bellamy but at least had big names in Gunther Netzer and Ledley King. On closer inspection it transpired that these were actually Chris Gunter and Joe Ledley. Oh. In the event, the one genuinely big name the homesters did field was . . . this being the Millennium Stadium and all - a certain K Jenkins. Great voice, not so sure about the footwork.
Someone not experiencing any footwork issues was Aiden McGeady, who was all twinkling toes down the left for Ireland before their opponents took the lead following Ledley's cross and Jason Koumas's neat header. "Wales look as if they want it more, " Jim Beglin decreed.
Ireland would have to up it. They duly did in the strangest of circumstances: Robbie Keane scored an away goal. Halftime consequently found the panel full of the joys of November, praising a "revitalised" Ireland and the enterprise of both sides.
As the second half wore on, the thought occurred as to what the qualifying campaign said about us in a broader context. The answer is, "not a lot", other than, at the risk of rehashing a point that's been made elsewhere in the wake of the combination of Staunton's misadventures and the simultaneous Rugby World Cup debacle, that we've lost the run of ourselves. Not to overdo the when-Iwere-a-lad stuff, but 25 years ago, when it was all fields around here and you could leave the key in your front door, Ireland internationals were matches rather than x-rays of the nation's well-being. Whether the team won or lost (or, more usually, got robbed by the referee), what happened next was that the sun rose the following morning and life went on.
What didn't happen was that the manager's tactics and selections became fodder for exhaustive discussion on the predecessor of Questions and Answers.
Look, it's a game.
It's not a statement of where we're going as a country.
Me, I blame the Charlton era, which in popularising soccer also empowered everyone to believe he or she was entitled to an opinion, however uninformed or mallet-headed, on the national team.
That's how radio phone-in lynch mobs come about.
It's not pushing it, indeed, to assert that the only winners in the Staunton saga have been the GAA, the proof of whose decision to open Croke Park, far from backfiring or spelling the apocalypse of Gaeldom, will be seen in their schedule of income for 2007. Let in the soccer lads, watch them make eejits of themselves and laugh all the way to the bank. Yet again the GAA have been blessed not so much in their friends as in their rivals.
Enough. Shortly before five o'clock yesterday, the Ukrainian referee blew the final final whistle and the helicopter rotors whirred. It's over. Thank God.