The morning after the most hostile game the Irish players had ever encountered and they were not just checking themselves for bumps and bruises but for puncture holes.
The litany of incidents was astonishing – Damien Duff and Lee Carsley were both struck by containers, a ball-bearing hit Gary Breen on the head, Gary Doherty had to dodge a glass vodka bottle and another shattered on Shay Given's crossbar. When Kevin Kilbane stooped to examine what had hit him, he was amazed to find an open penknife with a six-inch blade. "I picked it up and gave it to the referee and left it at that," he said afterwards. "I have played in Tehran and in Turkey and they are both very intimidating but there was nothing as dangerous as this." Uefa confirmed yesterday that it would be investigating the incidents.
Having been the victims of outrageous fortune – seven withdrawals from the squad and bottom of probably the toughest and most unpredictable qualifying group for Euro 2004 – the Irish also suffered from the slings and arrows. But they came out of it all with a win, and the points that suddenly provide life to their campaign. For bravery alone it was deserved. Luckily for them the aim of the Georgian players, who constantly pushed back Ireland, was not as accurate as their fans.
With Albania surprisingly beating Russia, also in Group 10, and the Irish flying to Tirana today for the second part of a double-header on Wednesday, they know, for what must feel the first time in months, that their destiny is in their own hands. Robbie Keane, sorely missed here, will also join up with the squad following the death of his father last week. "That will be a major boost," Chris Hughton, Ireland's assistant manager, said. "We have certainly missed him and have certainly gone through it all with him."
It may mean Gary Doherty, Keane's club and country team-mate, dropping to the bench – a situation that the man who scored the winning goal minutes from time says he is prepared to accept. "I am first and foremost an Ireland supporter," he said. "And I will happily move aside if needs be."
He probably won't have to. Brian Kerr, Ireland's new manager, is expected to start with both Tottenham Hotspur players, the first time they have been partners, and move the excellent Duff into midfield from where he can run from deep.
Doherty, 23, was candid about his desire to settle on either being a centre forward or a central defender, where he also occasionally plays. He feels the burden of being a "utility" player. "It is a massive decision for me and I am going to have to talk to a lot of people and get advice," he said. "It is hard work switching positions. I don't think that Spurs fans realise how hard it is."
A decision, Doherty said, has to be made in the summer. In truth, he was ineffective for most of Saturday evening although he probably was denied a legitimate penalty in the first-half when pulled back. "The lads said afterwards that I went down like a defender," he said.
But how timely was his goal. To their credit the Irish had regrouped sufficiently in the final quarter to already create a headed chance for the unmarked Duff, which he wasted, before the Blackburn Rovers player provided the cross for Breen to direct the ball back across goal to Doherty. His header was true.
It was Duff who was the instigator of most things. "It is no wonder the top Premiership sides are said to be after him," Doherty said. "There is no one quite like him. I'm sure that come the summer Blackburn will have their hands full trying to keep hold of him."
Ireland went ahead when Kilbane's cross was half-struck by Carsley, who later missed another clear chance, and the ball came back off the post. Duff also miscued but it squirmed over the line. Bizarrely, in light of later events, the goal was almost applauded by the home fans.
Perhaps the Irish scored too early. They were soon guilty of defending deeply with Mark Kinsella and Matt Holland retreating as Georgia's captain, Dundee's Georgi Nemsadze, ruled the play and fashioned a series of half-chances.
But it was not until Georgi Demetradze came on that the threat became more real. He added more direction, and aggression, and found John O'Shea, at left-back, wanting. It was from a trip by O'Shea on Demetradze that scuffles broke out and the first serious volley of missiles were thrown. It clearly unsettled the Irish and Levan Kobiashvili caught out Given at the near post with the free-kick.
The defending became desperate as the pressure grew but, interestingly, Kerr decided against any changes even though he knew a win was imperative. Slowly Ireland found their way back with Kenny Cunningham, the captain, outstanding. Kerr said afterwards that he had faith in his players. It was, ultimately, well-placed. Come Wednesday evening Ireland could be too.
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