HEY, it can't be good news all the time. At the end of a week when the spirits of Irish soccer have been lifted by the comeback of Yer Man from Mayfield, there had to be some payback. And so Ireland got a 3-0 trimming at the hands of Nigeria in the Unity Cup at The Valley in London yesterday having been outplayed in every sector of the pitch. The result will have irked Brian Kerr but he won't have lost much sleep over it. This wasn't about a result.
This was about youngsterblooding and CV-padding and finding out again what life is like when Himself isn't about the place. Stephen McPhail added another cap to the ever-growing ball of frustration into which his international career is petering out.
His main contribution to the first half was a fecklessly misplaced pass in midfield that began a move which ended 10 seconds later with Bartholomew Ogbeche hitting the base of Nicky Colgan's left-hand post when really he ought to have found the net. McPhail held his hand up in apology, shook his head to himself and went back out to the left wing.
Inside him, Mark Kinsella and Matt Holland ? former and current lords of this particular south London manor ? busied themselves with the odd toe-in and tackle here and there but the back foot was their default position.
Perugia midfielder Christian Obodo directed matters pretty much as he pleased, some of his stepovers and flicks and passes making Kinsella in particular look a man of every one of his 32 years.
Indeed, the sight of Kinsella huffing and puffing in the wake of Obafemi Martins as the Inter Milan striker eased away from him to release Ogbeche for Nigeria's first goal in the 37th minute was as fitting a metaphor as any for the first half.
Ogbeche's shot was better this time, low and inside the self-same post he'd hit the bottom of earlier.
It was the very least they deserved for in truth, had they gone in at half-time three or four up, there couldn't have been an Irish grumble worth listening to. Apart from Ogbeche's effort against the post and a fine saving tackle from Gary Doherty after Obodo was allowed to run through from midfield, Nicky Colgan found himself earning his match fee twice in the half ? once after just five minutes when he had to bat out a deflected shot from Seyi Olofinjana that looked to be spiralling over him and again near the break when an Ogbeche chip would have nestled in the net but for his outstretched fingertips.
Ireland weren't in the game at all, save for a half chance cleverly-engineered but then harmlessly fluffed by Alan Lee. Any hopes things would improve after the break were looking laughable within 15 seconds of the restart, some comedy defending from Kenny Cunningham and Doherty allowing Martins in for a clear run on goal. Colgan again rushed to the rescue.
It was finger-in-the-dyke stuff, though, and two minutes later, Nigeria doubled their lead. Martins, who along with Obodo and Ogbeche was looking the game's class act, collected the ball in the centre circle. He ran and he ran, twisted Cunningham hither and yon and when he reached the edge of the box, flicked the ball beyond Colgan with the outside of his left boot.
By the 70th minute, it was 3-0 and Ireland were looking at their heaviest defeat since Portugal beat them 3-0 in qualifying for Euro '96. Cunningham didn't exactly distinguish himself this time either, lobbing an awful backpass onto Colgan's knee. The keeper's control wasn't what it might have been and with Martins pressuring him, the ball squirted out to Ogbeche who rolled Nigeria's third into the empty net.
Ireland did get better (they'd have had a job on to have gotten worse). McPhail finished a neat move involving half-time substitute Clive Clarke and Lee by hitting the post Ogbeche had hit in the first half and Robbie Keane flicked a header onto the same post after more good work by the Lee. But it was to no good.
They'd been outclassed.
Not that it matters massively in the scheme of things.