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A dreary contest that won't live long in the memory


Jack Charlton was a special guest at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin yesterday

Jack Charlton was a special guest at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin yesterday


Jack Charlton was a special guest at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin yesterday

Well, we did all ask for solemn dignity. As a noble occasion, this was utterly docile in its meek compliance to the revamped relationship between old warring neighbours.

Twenty years after the heart and soul was forcibly ripped from the beautiful game, the Republic and England, along with their respective players and supporters, once more congregated in Dublin.

Only this time the heart and soul of the game was rather less violently removed; nobody's heart was really in it and the day was utterly lacking in soul.

The nearest we got to naked hostility was when Raheem Sterling was consistently booed by a section of Irish supporters.

Inevitably, perhaps, an uninspiring draw was the end product; an accurate reflection of the sterility that reduced what happened on the pitch to more of an afterthought, such was the steely-eyed determination to avoid hostility off it.

History encroached at every turn, it seemed.

The emotional pinnacle arguably arrived before a ball had even been kicked when Jack Charlton made a teary-eyed appearance at a ground where he penned so much of the Republic's recent football history.

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Perhaps the ageing and visibly frail World Cup winner with England, and World Cup manager with the Republic, knew he may never again be feted here as he just had been.

He was here when this fixture had been abandoned in 1995 and, while there had been consistent, confident expressions that there would not even be a hint of a repeat, the playing of the anthems served as an icy reminder of context.

Futile derision greeted 'God Save the Queen' and the English observed the Irish national anthem with consummate indifference.

The atmosphere of a crowd seemingly subdued to the state of subordination made one wonder if each of the 44,000 had been paid a slice of Fifa hush money.

This was the silence of the becalmed. At times, one could hear the players exhort each other to greater effort; the more they exhorted, the worse they got and the quieter the audience, too.

The highlights were two glaring opportunities for Daryl Murphy.

Jeff Hendrick flicked on for his first chance and suddenly Murphy had a clear sight on goal. Sadly, his finishing betrayed anxiety. The spurning of his second opportunity hinted at a starker frailty; a perfectly weighted cross produced a woefully timed header. No danger at all.

Martin O'Neill did, at least, manage to acquire valuable lessons about the revived merits of deploying Robbie Brady at left-back, while James McClean agitated in typically boisterous fashion for a start against Scotland next week.

Otherwise, only historical context could provide any sliver of meaning to the proverbial meaningless friendly. That the fixture could be staged here peacefully at all was of much more significance.

As a tribute to grace and diplomacy, this was an unblemished triumph. As much as the day never even threatened a riot, sadly it also didn't produce an appropriate football match.

In the spirit of this newly-acquired mutual respect and co-operation across the Irish Sea, let's leave it another 20 years, shall we?

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