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Ireland won the hard way, again, against Armenia to enter the playoffs for the European Championships

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There's a doctor called Kate who won’t be happy right now. It is 8:45 p.m. on an October Tuesday night in Dublin 4 and this old heart of mine is still racing.

All around me football fans are walking down steps, hurrying into the Ballsbridge night, off to enjoy the moment.

First they must come back down to Earth.

Not for the first time in the near four years Giovanni Trapattoni has been among us, the Irish soccer team have just put us through the ringer.

The giant scoreboard in front of me is flashing good news, over in the corner of what used to be known as the Havelock Square end of Lansdowne Road when I first came to watch Ireland play here in the mid-seventies.

The score reads Republic of Ireland 2 Armenia 1, but that’s not even half the story on another night of high drama for Irish fans.

Their team has just qualified for the playoffs of the European Championships. At noon on Thursday we will all flock to our television screens and watch the draw for the last eight of the qualifiers live from the Polish city of Krakow.

Eight names will produce four two legged playoffs and then four winners to join the likes of our old mates England and Russia in Poland and the Ukraine next summer.

Two years after we were robbed of World Cup justice by that cheat Thierry Henry, now New York-based of course, Ireland are back at the roulette table in their bid to qualify for a major finals.

Once again they have done it the hard way.

Just as we were left with a sense of outrage in Paris two winters ago, so Armenia will leave Dublin tonight with their chagrin up.


Their ‘keeper was wrongly sent off for “handling” the ball outside the box in the 26th minute tonight when television replays clearly proved that it was Man of the Match Simon Cox who touched the ball with his hand as he tried to beat the advancing Berezovsky from the edge of the box.

No offer of a replay followed from the FAI.

No one will stand up for the Armenians in the press conferences about to take place any minute now and demand that they get a second chance, that they be awarded another go after a diabolical refereeing error.

We won’t make the gesture because life doesn’t work like that. We cried alone in Paris two years ago, and the Armenians can cry solitary tears for all we care as they make their way back to Yerevan.

Many of those now filling the pubs near Lansdowne Road will already be toasting Trapattoni and his team.
They sang “Just Can’t Get Enough” by Depeche Mode at the end of the match, and they will be back to take up Shay Given’s command next month.

“You were great tonight, we’ll need you all right behind us next month as well,” said Given after a game when he was badly beaten by the Armenian’s best player Mkhitaryan before Kevin Doyle was sent off to ensure a nervy 10 minutes.

That’s why my new doctor, the girl called Kate, won’t be happy right now. She already believes my blood pressure is a cause for concern, so it’s a good job she’s not sitting anywhere near the Aviva Stadium press box right now.

Writing live to deadline is enough for any sports journalist to have to contend with. Writing to deadline while the team playing in front of you, the national team, are playing with your nerves is another matter altogether.

We should be used to it at this stage. Many Irish teams over many years have contrived to pull defeat from the jaws of victory and draws from the jaws of defeat.

It’s an Ireland thing. If we can make it as awkward as we possibly can for ourselves we will -- if we can develop a sense of injustice along the way then all the better.

Ireland didn’t lose the World Cup playoff to France in Paris two years ago. They lost it when they allowed the French to take victory away from Croke Park in the first leg of that playoff.

Ireland didn’t finish second in Group B of the European Championship qualifiers thanks to Tuesday night’s dramatic win over Armenia. They finished second to Russia, two points off the group winners and two points away from automatic qualification, because they failed to beat the same Russians at home.

That was the game that ultimately condemned us to the November playoffs. Victory, instead of a 3-2 defeat at home to Russia, would have seen us win this group.

Two victories against Slovakia, in games that were there for the taking in both Zilina and Dublin, would have seen Ireland safely through to next year’s Championships.

Instead we are back at the roulette table, back in the last chance saloon of the play-offs. For some strange reason, our football teams seem to like it that way.

They like doing things the hard way. And that’s doing my blood pressure no good at all. Just don’t tell the doctor!

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