Westmeath captain Kevin Maguire in action against Offaly’s Johnny Moloney during Sunday’s Tailteann Cup semi-final in Croke Park. PHOTO: JOHN MCCAULEY

What a difference four days makes…

‘76.5 little hours’, as the song might go.

Pedantic Pat, put away your laptop. I know that 4 x 24 equals 96, but I am talking about 5pm last Saturday week (June 11) to 9.30pm this day last week (June 14).

Yours truly has to confess that a rant about the abject poverty of the current Republic of Ireland soccer team was my original intention for this week’s ramblings after the horrendous loss in Armenia on June 4 and the not-much-better home defeat to a second-string Ukraine team on June 8.

I always try to juggle reporting assignments to ensure that I get to watch Irish away games on telly and/or attend home matches, but I was so sure that Armenia would be swatted aside that I agreed to do a game on June 4. It took more than one ‘you won’t believe the result from Yerevan’ text to, em, make me believe the result from Yerevan.

Still, having paid saucy money as ever for an Aviva Stadium season ticket, I made sure that I could attend the home game against Ukraine. A sloppy goal won the game for the war-torn nation’s ‘B’ side and when it was again left to Shane Duffy to try and rescue the home team with a trademark bullet header with time almost up – only this time he was narrowly foiled – I was one of thousands of disgruntled ‘boys in green’ trundling down Lansdowne Rd in the aftermath. Stephen Kenny’s moan about “losing to a fluke” made me rant: “Sure go and score two flukes at the other end!”

Indeed, after the Armenian debacle, when a mate to whom I had handed over my tickets for the Scottish game – I was a wedding guest that day – texted me to suggest, “I imagine you are relieved to be missing the visit of the Scots”, I replied: “I had been thinking of gatecrashing a wedding to avoid the Ukraine shambles!”

The wedding was in a very posh hotel near Celbridge (prompting me to tell the GAA-loving groom that he must have insisted on a ‘Celbridge or nowhere’ venue!) and a curt ‘no’ from a very blunt hotel manager to my question as to whether they had a television on the premises, meant that mobile phones were buzzing underneath tables for updates on the Ireland v Scotland game.

Lo and behold, Ireland actually score a goal, and it’s not a Shane Duffy header. Sure even a sloppy goal from Alan Browne will do fine. And then, two superb goals follow from Troy Parrott and Michael Obafemi, just to annoy this long-suffering supporter in absentia.

A few short years ago in the turgid reigns of Martin O’Neill and Mick McCarthy take two, it was genuinely a struggle to come up with as much as one goal of any quality for the overhyped ‘International Goal of the Year’ award on RTÉ. Suddenly, two absolute smashers in one game. And a competitive game at that, despite many observers’ less-than-complimentary views on the Nations League.

They say that (highly undesirable) punctures come in threes. The opposite must apply also. Just as we were all coming down somewhat from the highs of the Parrott and Obafemi goals, up pops Nathan Collins (whose physique and athleticism had greatly impressed me when very close to the action at the Aviva six days earlier) with a goal befitting legendary central defenders a la Franz Beckenbauer.

This columnist’s enormous admiration for Paul McGrath is well documented – I share my cuppas between mugs bearing Westmeath crests and one with the inscription ‘The Black Pearl of Inchicore’ – but I think even the legendary former Man Utd and Aston Villa man would concede that he never scored a goal of that quality, certainly not in a green jersey. Likewise, other Irish central defensive greats such as Dave O’Leary (who did a lot more than just score THAT penalty in Genoa) and Mark Lawrenson (a majestic all-round footballer).

The comic genius that is Mario Rosenstock gives his fans an early morning lift with his ‘Gift Grub’ creation at 8.10am on Today FM. In the lead-up to Irish matches, his ‘Radio Roy’ slot (featuring an outstanding impression of Martin O’Neill’s former assistant) is invariably hilarious. The standard contestants in the quiz are the pushy and none-too-bright Ann, and the even-more-clueless Con, both of whom consistently fail to answer even the simplest of trivia questions.

The pre-Ukraine question was: “What war-torn country are Ireland playing tonight, and I’ll give you a clue, it begins with a ‘U’?” Guesses of Yugoslavia and Urlingford were both deemed to be incorrect!

After four days which revived many Doubting Thomases’ faith in the ‘Stephen Kenny project’, we suddenly feel like we could take on the United Nations (beginning with a ‘U’)!


If Carlsberg did Sundays… It would be remiss of me not to congratulate Jack Cooney and his troops on a superb display against neighbours Offaly last Sunday. I fully expected Westmeath to win, but not with such ease. A strong Cavan outfit awaits on July 9. More about that in the next couple of editions. My day was crowned by a punt at 25/1 on Matt Fitzpatrick to win the US Open. What a difference a day makes, just eight little hours between 4pm and midnight!