If this Irish team continues to improve and refine, then maybe they will fill the stadiums in the years to come.
If the Euro is the flagship football event this summer, then maybe it was the festival on the sidelines.
It remains to be seen whether those at Szusza Ferenc Stadium on Tuesday night will bore all their comrades on how they viewed this group of Irish players ahead of their big breakthrough.
The presence of two 19-year-olds and two 20-year-olds made commentator George Hamilton wonder when this last happened.
It was Kenny Cunningham’s concentration gone as he tried to find an answer.
You wondered how seriously the former Irish defender took this game when he noticed earlier how Hungary boss Marco Rossi looked like Ian Holloway.
This is what happens in a friendly game at this time of the year when you don’t have to look forward to anything.
UNBEATABLE UNBATTUAL RACE
There was a time – 2012 in particular – when a game in Budapest at this time of year between these teams was designed to warm up Ireland for a football tournament.
At the time, Ireland extended what should be officially recognized as international football’s most unlikely unbeaten streak to 14 appearances with a goalless draw.
Then came the reality check at Euro 2012.
On Thursday, one of the most depressing streaks in recent memory came to an end when after 12 games without a win – all but one under Stephen Kenny’s watch – Ireland came from behind to defeat Andorra 4-1.
It was a step, of course, although its size was difficult to determine. Hungary were fourth in their qualifying group, but unlike, say, Ireland, they managed to pull themselves together in the play-offs by beating Bulgaria and – with two goals in the final three minutes – Iceland.
It is suspected that, like Giovanni Trapattoni’s side nine years ago – which lost weakly to Croatia, Spain and Italy – they will be brought down to earth with a bump in the tournament.
Next Tuesday, Hungary will host Portugal, reigning European champions, in the Puskas Arena.
If this is not enough publicity, four days later, they will welcome the last winners of the World Cup, France, in the same stadium.
GERMANY IN MUNICH
Then there’s a hands-on trip to Munich to take on Germany to complete their commitments in Group F.
If the 67,000-seat Puskas Arena is the footballing equivalent of 3 Arena, then it was Whelan’s with the same sweaty excitement that accompanied concerts on the Wexford Street venue.
The Ujpest field was filled to its capacity of 14,000, less than a quarter of what the city’s main arena contains.
We suspect that the majority of people in the stands had neither the means nor the fortune to obtain the most coveted tickets for the matches that matter.
THE FANS ARE BACK
“Sorry kids, by the time I remembered to log in all the U2 tickets were gone. But the good news is, we’re going to see The Joshua Trio. Of course, they’ll be singing all the same songs anyway ”.
“No, we’re not going to the Gaiety Panto, but the local drama company is putting on a school hall production which I’m sure will be just as good.”
‘Yeah that’s it, daddy, you’re ruining my life.’
But, whatever the environment or the circumstances, there was a real novelty in seeing Ireland play in front of fans again.
IT WAS VIL
This was only the second time this has happened since Mick McCarthy’s last game in charge in November 2019.
It was not all positive, of course.
When the Irish players first knelt down, their Hungarian counterparts remained standing and pointed to the UEFA badge reading “Respect” on their sleeves.
If that wasn’t enough, there were loud boos from the stands.
There is hostile and then there is vile.
What should starters Gavin Bazunu and Adam Idah think when a simple stand of solidarity emanating from the Black Lives Matter campaign is somehow deemed reprehensible?
They will hardly ignore such a point of view considering that the same thing has happened in the country where they practice their profession but, even so, it is not something that anyone – especially so young – should. have to live.
The best way to respond was on the court and the pair had their moments, Bazunu with the flywheel stopping to deny Adam Szalai and Idah forcing a save from Adam Bogdan.
The teenage goalkeeper seemed rather more comfortable with the ball at his feet than some of his outfielders, with Ireland’s early attempts to play from behind failing. He is calmness embodied.
VARIED THEIR GAME
His replacement Caoimhin Kelleher also made some notable saves on his international debut.
Bazunu’s teenage comrade Troy Parrott may not have had the full impact he had five days earlier, but that was because, for both sides, the passage was too sideways with no enough penetration.
That will be a concern for Stephen Kenny as, aside from that snapshot from Idah, Ireland’s best chance was with a set piece, with John Egan shaking the bar in the first half.
But there were some positives. When they encountered problems missing goals, they adjusted and varied their game.
It felt like a big step in Shane Duffy’s rehabilitation after a scorching season, all the more enjoyable as it went in a three-way defense, as Ireland went from the flat-back four used on Thursday.
Daryl Horgan made an impact off the bench again.
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His positive contributions should convince some clubs to take a step to ensure he plays at a higher level than League One next season.
Jason Knight bolstered his growing reputation with a serious change to the five-man midfield.
Derby boss Wayne Rooney’s high opinion of his 20-year-old is justified.
Are they the perfect set? Not yet. There will be more discordant notes to come.
But if they continue to improve and refine, then maybe they will fill the stages in the years to come.