WELL, at least it's over now.
The best that could be said about the end of Ireland's Euro 2008 qualifying campaign is that it was, indeed, the end. In a match that very predictably drew a risible crowd to the Millennium Stadium, Ireland threw away a 21 lead with yet another late goal conceded through yet another piece of carelessness in defence. Jason Koumas's penalty in the 89th minute brought the curtain down on Ireland's involvement in Group D and by the end all you could say was good riddance. We tottered off into the Cardiff night vowing one and all never to speak of the past year again in polite company.
Another late goal. As the Wales substitute David Cotterill ran on to a through ball on the right-hand side of the Irish box, the 4,000-strong Irish crowd willed Paul McShane not to pull him down. But McShane let Cotterill get just the wrong side of him and when the pair of them went to the floor, the referee was only too delighted to point to the spot.
Koumas finished off the campaign in an emphatic and . . . if we're honest . . . appropriate manner. It lent a frisson of excitement to a game that frankly didn't deserve it.
Because this was precisely as dull as you suspected it would be. It was two bald men fighting over a comb and not very strenuously at that; a pair of cornerboys killing a Saturday afternoon flipping beermats in the snug. In the absence of much football to watch, we were given a chance to ponder the great philosophical questions.
Like, if Robbie Keane falls in the final third and looks beseechingly at the referee but no free-kick comes, does Robbie Keane truly exist?
Or, do you want to know the sound of one hand clapping?
Stick on a video of the last 20 minutes of the first half here where the atmosphere was more suited to a Sunday morning junior hurling game.
Thank the Lord, then, for Stephen Hunt, whose introduction on the hour once again sparked a spell of energy and entertainment. With his very first involvement, in the 61st minute, he took on Welsh right-back Neale Eardley and bent in a left-footed cross that Kevin Doyle kneed over the line for what would have been the winner on another day for another team.
A game that was in danger of nodding off was turned in Ireland's favour by Hunt's relentless chasing, harrying and scheming.
Apart from the cross that Doyle bundled home, he also set Keane up with a smart chance eight minutes from time which the Ireland captain snatched at and sent over the bar. His bustling, chug-alugging style will never win many points for artistic impression but the always earnest cameos in this campaign have made him easily the most popular member of the squad among supporters. Whoever the next manager is will have to look at finding a way for his impact to be felt from the beginning of games.
For the half an hour he was on the pitch, Ireland were the better side and if they'd held out there wouldn't have been many who'd begrudge them the three points. The hour that went before his arrival was spiritlevel even, with both sides as disinterested as the other.
Koumas . . . by a street the game's best player, even though he was fighting a very lonely battle in a poor Welsh side . . . had put the home side ahead with a header on 23 minutes, a goal that illustrated yet again that whatever Kevin Kilbane is, he isn't a left-back.
When Joe Ledley turned Steve Finnan on the halfway line, the Irish defence still had plenty of time to organise itself. Indeed Finnan, who managed to get back goalside of the Cardiff left-back, should have stopped the cross but even so, Kilbane had no excuse for finding himself standing idle in the box while Koumas strolled in to head home unchallenged. Another box for the new man to get around to ticking by and by.
The Irish equaliser came within 10 minutes, a nice linkup between Kevin Doyle and Keane after Ireland forced Wales to turn over possession from a throw-in. Doyle got hold of it in midfield and the two Welsh centre-halves split like a six-month-old boy band. Keane's chipped finish was nicely done and Ireland were level.
The second half contained marginally more incident than the first, by the simple equation of it being very difficult to imagine there possibly being less. Koumas drew a couple of smart saves out of Shay Given and the Ireland keeper also had to tip over a David Edwards header that bounced off McShane just after the break.
But all in all, this was what petering out looks like.