By Macdara Ferris in Vienna.
We walked in the cold air,
Freezing breath on the window pane.
From ‘Vienna’ by Ultravox
On the eve of Ireland’s crucial game against Austria, the temperatures that awaited Ireland when they walked out to train on the Ernst Happel Stadium pitch in Vienna weren’t far off freezing but they didn’t drop any further over the weekend.
We didn’t get to see 20cm of snow which the one reporter told Martin O’Neill in the pre-match press conference was coming for Saturday. There was a distinct possibility that there was some confusion over millimeters and centimeters but there would be no snow over the weekend and no orange ball required for the game.
Maybe the Austrian manager Marcel Koller wanted to get his pre-match press conference out of the way early so he could celebrate his 56th birthday but it meant this Extratime.ie reporter flying into Vienna on Friday morning was unable to make the midday Austria press event. The Ireland manager Martin O’Neill and captain Seamus Coleman were along later on to give the waiting Irish and Austrian media their thoughts.
There was no escaping the US President-elect in Vienna as ’The Donald’ got a mention from O’Neill in discussing the Ireland’s recent rocky relationship with Coleman’s club boss Ronald Koeman. But the Dutchman was down the list of O’Neill’s priority call sheet. “I will put a call into Trump first to congratulate him and commiserations to Hilary and somewhere down the line there y would be Koeman,” joked O’Neill.
It was great to be pitch side after the press conference to see our two League of Ireland boys warming up alongside their international teammates. It made for a great picture with Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle training beside Ireland captain Seamus Colman.
Back in Vienna city centre later, the dessert of choice was naturally Apfelstrudel and over a drink or two in the Fleischmarket area we mused on the merits of a midfield diamond. Chatting to one Ireland supporter, he was complaining that there were way too many Irish fans in this bar not wearing colours. It had to be explained that this was a bar containing a group of Irish journalists who have to give off a veneer of neutrality. That detachment though would be sorely tested three minutes into the second half of Saturday’s match!
The next morning gave a chance to explore the sights of Vienna. In the Museum quarter, the Albertina had an exhibition on the pioneers of modern art - Seurat, Signac and Van Gogh: Ways of Pointillism. Most Irish discussion ahead of the game was about being happy should the Boys in Green take away one point from the match but with a bit of artistry maybe multiple points could be secured. Whether Ireland’s creativity on the pitch would amount to an exhibition remained to be seen.
It was a bracing winter wind blowing down the Danube on match night. The teamsheet listed Daryl Horgan on the bench but he will be an unused substitute in the game. Pat Byrne’s 29 year record as the last League of Ireland player to get a competitive run out remains intact.
The music is weaving,
Haunting notes pizzicato strings,
The rhythm is calling
Like all stadia before the teams come out the pre-match music is turned up to 11. There is no David Guetta but there is a lot of ‘waving coloured flags’ as the home supporters fling their free Austrian flags to the rhythm of Johann Strauss’ Radetzky March. There is a 12th man motif to their tifo display as high above in the opposite end 3,250 Ireland fans welcome their team onto the pitch.
The fine display of bobbly hats in the pressbox is disturbed when they are removed for the national anthems. Ireland are put under the cosh from the off but they weather the early Austrian storm.
As the opening period comes to a close, Marcel Sabitzer and Jon Walters are both guilty of missing guilt edge chances at either end of the pitch. At the break I drop into the press zone for a welcome coffee. I warm my hands on the decent cappuccino that the Barista serves me up before it is back out to put some bones on the match report.
The second half is just three minutes old when the League of Ireland does make its presence felt on the pitch through some former domestic players. Cork City’s David Meyler wins the ball near his own corner flag and breaks up the right. He shows great presence of mind to slightly delay his pass as he picks out Shelbourne’s Wes Hoolahan on the edge of the centre circle. The move is completed with the Third Man in Vienna being Derry’s own James McClean. He has moved into space waiting beyond the full back and Hoolahan’s ball is picture perfect. McClean takes one touch, enters the penalty area and lets fly.
A man in the dark in the picture frame,
So mystic and soulful.
A voice reaching out and a piercing cry
There is a piercing cry and it is from the ‘neutral’ Irish journalists letting out a collective yelp as the ball ripples the net. Ireland lead in Vienna. "You are hardly going to believe us - we are going to top the group,” can be heard from travelling Ireland supporters.
An official’s flag rules out Jon Walters’ header minutes later and while Ireland don’t drop too deep, the home side do create chances to equalise. Marc Janko inexplicably misses a series of chances that at a minimum could have earned Austria a point, if not all three. His headed miss in the six-yard box in injury time is the last chance they will get. The final whistle goes and with it likely fades away their World Cup qualification chances.
Alone in the night as the daylight brings a cold empty silence,
The warmth of your hand and a cold grey sky,
It fades to the distance.
The home fans troop out silently while the PA blasts out U2’s ‘I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For’ just as Ireland have found themselves with a win for the very first time on Austrian soil.
The victory has everyone reaching for the record books. Ireland’s 1987 1-0 win in Scotland is mentioned as the last qualifying away victory of note. That was the first and only time that Ireland won a qualifying group. We went up against first and second seeds Belgium and Hungary that time, with Ireland seeded third above Scotland.
You actually have to go back to 1967 for the last competitive away win over a side seeded above Ireland. This truly is a night of nights. Ireland’s qualification success in campaigns in the past has often been built on famous 1-0 victories. Shane Long with the winner over Germany in the Aviva, Jason McAteer’s strike beating The Netherlands at Lansdowne Road and Mark Lawrenson’s Hampden Park goal in ‘87. For James McClean to be added to that list, Ireland will need to go on to qualify for Russia 2018.
Martin O’Neill afterwards (see here) sings McClean’s praises and that of his teammates. “There is a great resilience about the team and strength of character and they go right till the end.” Back in Vienna later that night, the Irish fans can be heard singing about McClean. It is a Queen song it seems, that echoes off the historic city centre walls of the Innere Stadt!
Ten points from four matches puts Ireland in a decent position going into the winter international break even if O’Neill states that “there is a million miles to go”. Should Ireland go on to make their first World Cup in 16 years, we will look back on the importance of that James McClean goal and this win in Austria. Don’t mind Ultravox’s Vienna, this was an Ultravictory in Vienna for Ireland.
nothing (everything) to me
nothing (everything) to me
For the night that's in it! Away win for Ireland. McClean outstanding Ultravox Vienna https://t.co/XiwQzd1Qq6— Kilgobinet Waterford (@CillGhobnait) November 12, 2016