Archive for October 30, 2011

Money talks as Dunphy walks

Eamon Dunphy- silence is not so golden, baby.

One of the high points of the year for me was the Sunday morning when I appeared on Eamon Dunphy’s show back in the spring.

It doesn’t matter how many elections you cover or how many internationals you interview for news agencies or foreign media, you’re no-one till you’ve sat and chewed the fat with Eamon or Marian on a Sunday morning.

Sitting in the chair with the other guests, it felt like I’d finally arrived.

I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for Dunphy as a journalist and broadcaster, even if I haven’t always agreed with him.

His part-showman, part-shaman polemical style has provoked debate on all manner of subjects over the last thirty or so years, from soccer tactics to the real meaning of the term “gombeen man”.

It was a pleasure to meet him, although I think I embarrassed him when I told him that his columns in the Sunday Independent were partially responsible for me wanting to become a journalist in the first place.

He needn’t be; those columns showed many of us that it wasn’t our thoughts that were the most important thing- it was the fact that we thought at all.

He showed us that an independent mind was worth its weight in gold.

It seems that money was at the root of Dunphy’s decision to leave what was (until today) the best show on Irish radio.

Rumours of a 50% salary cut abound, as do tales of Dunphy having to fork out for the four sets of newspapers his panellists devour before going on air.

But I doubt it was because of the impact on his own pocket that Eamon jumped ship, rather a more sinister approach to journalists and journalism from the bean-counters that control where the money gets spent.

He has mentioned a “yellow-pack”mentality in Irish journalism, and you don’t have to dig too deep to discover that Irish journalists aren’t exactly living off the fat of the land.

Having worked for so long in Sweden, I was shocked when I discovered exactly how little Irish media outlets are prepared to pay for journalism.

There are a few notable exceptions, but in most cases it is peanuts, something the quality of much of the end product is testimony to.

It’s not that our journalists lack the skill or the interest; it’s quite simply not worth their while to properly research and write an article, or produce a tv or radio program, because no-one in Ireland is willing to pay for their time anymore.

And before you start feeling all high and mighty about it, that includes the consumer.

The Times of London was hammered for putting its content behind a pay wall, mostly by those who refused to understand that free access to information is not the same thing as free information- at some point, someone has to pay.

I still work for Irish media on stories that I think are worthy or otherwise interesting, but thankfully I can afford to be a bit more selective than the average journalist back home.

The low-cost approach, where the owners complain about the price of everything rather than realising that without it their products have no value, is destroying Irish media.

Then there are those who confuse content with journalism.

The internet is awash with people who write, film, photograph and publish, often entirely uncritically; very little of this material is ever fed through a journalistic set of princicples.

As the recent Irish presidential election has shown us, we need people whose job it is to sift through the streams of fact and rumour, hearsay and heresy, and get to the bottom of a story.

Without it, our democracy grinds to a halt and those who can afford it can buy all the silence they want.

No democracy has ever thrived with its media controlled by a single entity, public or private.

Like every aspect of Irish life, what is needed is plurality in the media where people can present their arguments and allow us to make up our own minds about what we think.

In other words, it needs exactly what Eamon Dunphy provided every Sunday morning on his radio show.

What is most worrying is that, in arguing over the price of taxis and newspapers and Dunphy’s salary, Newstalk have lost something a lot more valuable.

And ultimately it is the listeners that will have to pay the price.

‘Cheque mate’ proves silence is golden

Even if it doesn’t come from Michael D’s corner, there will be at least one more major twist in this election yet.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it was around McGuinness, as too many powerful people cannot abide the thought of him representing them.

But as long as Michael D keeps on the straight and narrow, the prize will be his.

- ourmaninstockholm, October 4

So it came to pass.

Sean Gallagher- what now?

Seán Gallagher almost pulled off the impossible, blazing out of the pack only to fall at the final hurdle in what has been one of the most remarkable presidential races in history.

I heard his close friend and PR aide Jack Murray on the radio today saying that Gallagher’s biggest strength – the fact that he wasn’t a politician – turned out to be his biggest weakness too.

There is an immense amount of truth in what Jack says, but maybe not in the way he meant it.

Murray means that a more seasoned operator – a Gay Mitchell for instance- would have met McGuinness’s attack head on. As soon as McGuinness mentioned the cheque, Gallagher should have countered with a quip about fundraising or NorthernBank or whatever else would shift the spotlight.

I have been a student of Jack’s when it comes to media and PR and he is the best in the business. Gallagher’s polished media performances were a testament to his great skill and attention to detail in preparing his client.

But I am of the opinion that both he and Gallagher took their eye off the ball a little and left the door open for McGuinness.

Gallagher’s weaknesses were twofold – his FF past and his business dealings.

He seems to have made forensic efforts to ensure that his business dealings were all either above board or corrected and in truth there was little in them.

His distancing himself from Fianna Fáil wasn’t nearly as effective. Time may heal all wounds, but the public still remembers what Dev’s party did to them. Gallagher shrewdly left the party and cooled off before declaring himself as a candidate, but it wasn’t enough.

As ever in politics, there is no black and white, and Gallagher obviously didn’t feel comfortable condemning the party for its astounding stupidity in destroying the country. Instead, he tried to give the impression that he was a lot further removed from it than he actually was.

Bad move. When McGuinness placed him at the scene of the cheque on the Frontline debate, all of a sudden Gallagher was stuck, and the reasonably innocent business transactions started to look like the underhand actions of a Fianna Fáil bagman. Once that happened, it was all over.

Michael D- you'd be smiling too.

And there, waiting in the wings, was Michael D.

Ireland’s ninth president ran a campaign of almost total silence- no hype, no grand visions, his closet forensically cleansed of skeletons.

Instead, he let others do the dirty work for  him.

McGuinness delivered the hammer blow on Gallagher, Norris twisted the knife (‘I think the mention of envelopes was unfortunate’) and Davis called for him to explain himself.

By midnight Monday, the dragon was slain.

All the while, Michael D stood there looking presidential, his poet’s trap firmly shut- throughout Gallagher’s spectacular rise and fall, he said nothing.

As quickly as Gallagher rose, he fell again. Michael D was back at the top of the pile. Order was restored.

Gallagher is by no means finished in public life, but even his renowned confidence and positivity will have taken a battering.

He may not have won this race, but with the lessons learned here, don’t rule him out winning the next one.

We need to talk about Arthur

Ready for proper drink-driving legislation?

I usually try to be as balanced as possible, but for once I’m going to stick my neck out and say something controversial.

Ireland’s new drink-driving legislation is one of the most dangerous laws ever to be passed, as it cements the fact that drinking and driving is OK.

Implicit in it is that we have a right to drink and drive, and that the effects of alcohol change depending on your experience and even your job.

Which is nonsense.

Now Minister Leo Varadkar won’t agree – no doubt convinced that he and his department have shown the wisdom of Solomon, he has denied that it’s combination of limits, fines and penalties is a soft touch.

You’ll hear a lot about how it “brings Ireland into line with the rest of Europe”, which is worth a closer look.

Let’s compare the Irish legislation to Sweden.

The Swedish level for a breath test – across the board – is 20mg of alcohol. In Ireland, that level only applies to professional, novice and learner drivers.

I cannot find any reasoning for that, most likely because there is none that stands up to scrutiny.

If you’re found with less than 50mg  in Ireland, you walk away scot free.

In Sweden, you literally walk away, as you lose your driving licence for around ten months and you get hit with a hefty fine.

Between 80mg and 100mg and it starts to sting in Ireland – a €400 fine and a six-month ban.

In Sweden, that will get you at least a month in prison, as well as an even bigger fine.

The idea that drink affects learners and professionals differently is both stupid and discriminatory.

What is the logic behind allowing someone have a limit of 49mg today, only to reduce that to 19mg tomorrow if they get a job as a bus driver? The differentiation is an attempt to be seen to be taking the matter seriously, whilst ignoring the science..

Then there is the idea that a person unable to produce a driving licence should see them treated as a “specified deriver” – the same as a learner or professional driver.

This beggars belief. Not only can they not prove that they are competent to drive, they try to do somehting they are not qualified to do whilst drunk.

There is no compulsion for Irish drivers to seek treatment for alcohol problems either.

In Sweden, drivers are in no doubt – being over the limit at all means you lose your licence and get fined.

Believe me, it makes a difference.

You can argue all you like about personal freedom, the death of the pub trade, the poor farmers stuck on their farms with only a visit to the pub for company and the rest, but there is only one scientifically safe blood-alcohol level when driving, and that is zero.

This legislation is another attempt to appease the Irish people and tell them otherwise.

Varadkar (who admittedly didn’t design the legislation) would be better to bite the bullet and do it properly- his government will undoubtedly be shafted for turning into Fianna Fáil and following their austerity program, so he has nothing to lose.

Why not introduce proper legislation and put the drink-driving myths to bed for good?

Et tu Mary? Then fall, Seanie

One of these men has some serious skeletons in his closet. The other is Martin McGuinness.

I’d like to think that one of the reasons that people like reading this blog is the fact that I don’t mind admitting when I’m wrong.

And boy, was I wrong about the Frontline presidential debate on RTE.

Perhaps I was suffering election fatigue when I sat down to watch it, but I think I can be forgiven for saying that I was expecting the same non-answers to the same irrelevant questions.

What followed, of course, was two hours of the most gripping television in the history of Irish broadcasting as Gallagher stumbled badly on the home straight, and, sensing weakness, Michael D moved to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

In the bitterst of ironies, it was Martin McGuinness- no stranger to a bit of cavalier fund-raising himself – who held the smoking gun.

He had spoken to someone who had handed over a cheque for Fianna Fáil to the value of five thousand euro to Seán Gallagher, in return for his dinner and a picture with Brian Cowen.

Never has something that sounds so unappealing cost so much.

It cost the donor five grand.

It may have cost Gallagher the presidency.

The rest of the candidates, who until that point had failed to find a foothold on the Mount Rushmore-like face of Gallagher’s entrepreneurial stoicism, gleefully queued up to twist the knife.

Even Mary Davis – the candidate most likely to be accused of kicking a man whilst he’s down – got her digs in and has called on Gallagher to come clean or suffer the wrath of the people.

She has done little in this campaign, but this late intervention may just turn the tide.

In another bitter irony, Gallagher’s problem is very similar to that of his prime adversary McGuinness.

Both have shady political pasts that they would wish to forget, or at least cast in a totally different light to what anyone else remembers.

Neither can afford the luxury of condemning their supporters in the shadows (McGuinness in the IRA, Gallagher’s in FF).

Gallagher’s problem, like McGuinness, is that when he denies his past, he loses all credibility. Instead of prostating himself before the electorate and begging their forgiveness, he left himself open to being caught out.

Gallagher could have been the first of the new FF breed, accepting both his own past and the wrongs of the Galway tent but promising to usher in a new era of politics.

Instead, he chose to minimise his part in FF, thus creating a hostage to fortune that, in the media climate of this campaign, wasn’t likely to stay chained to a radiator for long.

Like the banks of the Dodder, the floodgates have finally opened, and a much more damaging allegation is that he took payments form GAA clubs to secure funding.

As most people know, the GAA is an amateur organisation kept running by the efforts of hundreds of thousands of volunteers, none of whom will be too enamoured at this prospect.

Add to this his seemingly odd (but seemingly legitimate) business transactions and we are witnessing a death by a thousand cuts.

I have written several times over the last few weeks that there was one major twist left in this race, but I don’t think that anyone in their wildest dreams could have imagined it would be a game-changer like this one. Not even Michael D.

At 1400 Irish time tomorrow the utterly ludicrous broadcast ban kicks in and the public pronouncements of the candidates will be effectively finished.

That means Gallagher has about 16 hours to save his campaign track or risk becoming the second candidate to throw this election away despite seemingly having it in the bag.

I have no doubt about the brilliance of his backroom team (some of them trained me in public relations) – the question is whether they can save him in time.

Watch this space.

Why a Gallagher victory means the end for Fianna Fáil

Gallagher giving it the full gun

The cliché goes that it ain’t over till the fat lady sings, even if in Dana’s case it was over as soon as she opened her mouth, but it’s not far off now.

Seán Gallagher will be Ireland’s next president, and his election will mark the end of Fianna Fáil.

Think about it.

Crushed in the general election, the party that destroyed the country decided not to openly run a candidate, leaving the way open for one of their own to run.

In their hysterical chasing of Norris and McGuinness, the media missed it completely, despite how obvious it was.

In short, if it talks like Fianna Fáil, walks like Fianna Fáil and looks like Fianna Fáil, it is Fianna Fáil. Gallagher is Fianna Fáil, through and through.

But by the time the electorate realised what had happened, Gallagher had streaked ahead in the polls, and it was too late for his unmasking to make any difference.

Freed from having the Fianna Fáil brand on his non-existent posters, Gallagher could take the ideology but not the burden of recent history. It was a stunning coup, with far-reaching consequences for Fianna Fáil.

Despite the role having no direct influence on either, Gallagher spoke about jobs and entrepreneurship; that he will be able to deliver neither is beside the point.

The voters- especially the younger ones- liked what they heard. And while we were watching Norris, the spectacularly inept Gay Maitchell and Dana implode, and Michael D was desperately trying to keep his trap shut, Gallagher snuck up behind him and hared off into the lead.

What this affirms is that the majority of Irish people still have Dev in the their DNA. In a blind political taste test, they cannot choose the left, the liberals or those more nationalist than themselves.

Like kids with their faces pressed to the Christmas windows in Clery’s, they are naturally drawn to the small-business, small-minded, Galway tent set- the possibility that, whatever happens, they will be looked after. And screw everyone else.

And that is also why Fianna Fáil in their current form are finished.

Gallagher has shown that the people have not fallen out of love with their politics, but  with their party.

The brand of Fianna Fáil is now so toxic that, if they have any political common sense at all, it will never again be put before the people.

Enda Kenny’s crown as hide-and-seek champion of Ireland is under serious threat from everyone in Fianna Fáil- none of them have been seen or heard from since the campaign began, lest they infect their last man standing- Gallagher.

In 1989 another overblown Irish institution was in a similar situation.

A couple of years of hubris and spectacular arrogance were coming to close, and on New Year’s Eve the acolytes gathered in the Point Depot, as the O2 was then known.

The leader of the gang closed the show with a promise to go and “dream it all up again”.

U2 transformed themselves and came back bigger than ever.

Fianna Fáil in their current form will never achieve that, but that is what is needed.

U2 kept the name and changed what they stood for. Fianna Fáil will do the opposite, keeping the same tired, discredited policies and practices, but ditching their name and with it, their recent past.

And why wouldn’t they?

It worked for Seán Gallagher.

Only one poll matters now

Who are you calling a Red C...?

There are two polls left in this presidential campaign. One (already leaked) doesn’t matter.

The other matters a lot.

Already the good folk at politics.ie are mulling the numbers from the last Red C poll and what they mean; by rights, they should mean nothing. But they do.

Apart from the die-hard hard right (Mitchell) and the utterly bonkers (Dana), there aren’t too many who will want to back a loser at this stage, and many voters will spend tomorrow choosing which of the winners to back.

Add the transfers of Mitchell and Dana, plus those of Mary Davis, to Gallagher’s considerable lead and he is likely to win.

Much as Norris loved not wisely but too well, the left has suffered from having three strong candidates in the field.

How Michael D must now regret playing his cards so close to his chest and not building on his lead before Gallagher got to work.

The showing of McGuinness (several points ahead of what his party managed in the general election) is a sign of how out of step the media are when it comes to the mood of the people.

Unsurprisingly, Independent Newspapers went after him from the off, as did Newstalk to a certain extent. Miriam O’Callaghan’s attempt to put a new slant on old questions backfired badly, damaging her reputation more than his.

If the media was out of touch with the mood of the people, so too was Norris. His handling of the clemency letters issue is surely the greatest Irish political misjudgment since Parnell said “it’s grand lads, as soon as she gets the divorce we’re cushty.”

But whatever the numbers posted in the Red C poll tomorrow, it should make no difference to how you vote. Nor should the platitudes, waffle and misleading questions of the debates.

Instead, voters should consider the careers of the candidates to date to find out what they really stand for. In doing so, all the spin and PR stunts, the bon mots and road-to-Damascus conversions fall away, hopefully leaving each honest voter with the person whom they feel best represents our country.

In doing so, spare a thought for those of us that are denied a vote. Successive Irish governments believe it OK to turn to the non-resident Irish in times of crisis, demanding that we play our part in a recovery but denying us any chance of representation in the process. For more information visit www.ballotbox.ie

You talking to me?

Travis: "You talkin' to me?". Martin: "No Travis, I'm talking to the other madman with the gun..."

The hardest part of not living in Ireland is not having access to the Sunday papers in all their chaotic, supplement-filled glory.

I miss having a big bunt of them thrown down on the breakfast table like a gauntlet every week, challenging you to digest them alongside your black pudding.

The worst of it is that I miss articles like this one by Jen O’Connell about why she won’t be voting for Martin McGuinness – not because I agree with her entirely (I don’t), but because of some of the important points it raises.

There is one in particular that never seems to see the light of day, and it gets back to the key question of all the coverage of the election- what are we being asked to believe about the candidates?

Much is made of McGuinness, what he says and when- what exactly does he think of the state he wishes to represent?  When did he leave the IRA? Who does he think he will be representing? When did he condemn the murders of Gardaí?

All these questions miss the most pertinent of all, and that is when Martin McGuinness speaks, who is he speaking to?

It’s not news to anyone that, every time Martin McGuinness opened his mouth during his political career, he was taking his life in his hands.

What most people don’t seem to realise is that he has been as much at risk from a violent split within his own ranks as he has been a target for the British or the loyalist paramilitaries.

Judged on his part in the peace process, McGuinness’s refusal to publicly condemn the IRA and its attendant atrocities is not a tacit acceptance; it is more a strategy for the preservation of both himself, the IRA and the party.

It is always taken for granted that “the Armalite and the ballot box” was a philosophy, rather than the day-to-day political reality of running Sinn Féin and the IRA for many years.

When they were speaking publicly, McGuinness and Adams weren’t speaking to us- they were speaking to them, their colleagues in the Republican movement who didn’t believe or trust the British or Irish governments, or anyone else for that matter.

There are a few no-go areas if you wish to survive in the minefield of Republican rhetoric.

You do not tarnish the memory of certain heroes or their deeds.

You do not question the validity or legality of the armed struggle.

You do not (until recently) condemn any acts carried out in the name of either of them.

McGuinness is no Ché Guevara, nor is he a Nelson Mandela, but he has done his bit for peace.

It was Adams and McGuinness, among others, who realised that the Long War was not going to be won by either side.

It was Adams and McGuinness who delivered the IRA to the negotiating table.

It was Adams and McGuinness who created a situation where the guns of their comrades- and maybe their own- could fall silent for good.

None of this could have been delivered by John Hume, John Major or Ian Paisely.

And none of this could have been delivered had Adams and McGuinness gone around publicly condemning the very people they were trying to coax out of the shadows.

And as she mentions in her article, Jen herself has witnessed what happens when violent Republican groups split away and carry on the fight by themselves.

What happens is atrocities like Omagh- carried out by the dissident Republicans of the Real IRA, who never boarded the peace train with the rest.

For some reason, what we are still being asked to believe about McGuinness is that he is a violent and dangerous man because of his IRA past, when all the evidence points to the fact that he has put it all behind him.

As I have previously written, McGuinness is probably still unelectable for precisely the reasons Jen mentions. But even if we are never going to vote for him, we should acknowledge that the political reality in which he operated was entirely different from what most democracies would be used to.

And for their part, if Sinn Féin are ever to be properly understood in the south, and if they are ever to become electable, they need to do a better job of of explaining not just why they did what they did, but who they were talking to when they weren’t talking to the rest of us.

Swing and a miss on sex abuse story

Presidential candidate Dana Rosemary Scallon. Not pictured- toys flying out of pram.

I hate having to agree with Dana, but sometimes something is right, no matter who is saying it.

The decision by certain media outlets to publish allegations of sexual abuse in her family has nothing to do with the presidential election, and probably should never have seen the light of day.

Crimes of a sexual nature are among the few in Ireland which warrant those involved remaining anonymous, and for good reason- there is little to be gained from dragging them across the front pages.

No doubt the editors will point to the best excuse in the world to justify themselves- “it’s in the public interest”.

It’s not. Now that the public knows the nature of the allegations, it seems to have little or no interest in finding out more.

Neither does it have any bearing on the presidential election. All the polls show that those planning to support Dana on polling day are statistically insignificant.

Every editor has choices to make regarding where to spend his resources; in dedicating them to such a story, it takes away from leads that are far more newsworthy – Mitchell’s deep impopularity, Gallagher’s Fianna Fáil past, the Labour Party’s lurch away from socialism and many more.

Instead, the papers have chosen to concentrate on an irrelevant story about an irrelevant candidate, and are in danger of becoming irrelevant themselves.

Banning Griffin is a cop-out

The BNP's Nick Griffin- as handsome as he is clever.

I have no time for the arguments of the European far right.

They are essentially based on the fallacy that one people is somehow intrinsically better than another, and that geographical coincidence at birth somehow endows a birthright at the expense of others.

But however stupid that sounds, banning Nick Griffin from speaking at a Trinity College debate on immigration is a breathtaking act of cowardice.

The organisers say that they “cannot guarantee” security at the event, which of course is horse manure.

We’ve had visits from the Queen and the President of the USA this year, but somehow we can’t deal with a few protestors and supporters of a holocaust-denying racist?

The truth is that either they don’t want to do it, or they are using it as a flag of convenience to deal with an uncomfortable situation and muzzle Griffin without saying so. Either way, the result is the same.

If the point of their intellectual cowardice is to silence Griffin and stop the spread of his daft ideas, it has already failed.

Shallow, hateful ideologies like his thrive in the darkness- drag them out into the light and, like vampires, they wither and die.

I once debated with a far-right racist who attempted to batter me with facts about immigration.

Not knowing that I lived in Scandinavia, he proceeded to throw out all kinds of statistics about a “muslim rape wave” (his words, not mine) in Sweden in particular.

My simple response was that I live there, and I had never heard of it.

The debate ended abruptly.

But it is virtually impossible to guarantee the democratic rights of one person whilst impinging on those of another.

And doubtless those protesting his appearance are the same people who whine hysterically about Bradley Manning being incarcerated.

But freedom of speech is not an “a la carte” idea- you’re either for it, or you’re not.

Let Griffin come to Dublin, and let him speak.

Let people here his hysterical ramblings about Muslims and blacks and how they threaten our way of life and how all they want to do is get welfare and have babies.

Then remember what was said about the Irish in America and in the United Kingdom over the last two centuries, and ask yourself which is true.

As a rule, political parties like Griffin’s ultimately fail because those involved have neither the interest in nor the skill for politics required. Their first taste of power and money is often their undoing.

Sweden Democrat's William Petzäll, who has struggled with a drink problem since being elected. By the look of him, his drink of choice is vodka and orange.....

As an example, the poster boy of the Sweden Democrats, William Petzäll, has become a political cuckoo.

He was one of their success stories; elected by SD voters, he has struggled with drink and drugs and since left the party but not resigned the seat.

Rumour has it he demanded money from the party to do so.

Petzäll’s lack of political nous was quickly shown up in both the chamber and the media, and he continues to embarrass himself and his former party comrades every time he opens his mouth. Needless to say no other party would touch him with a barge pole.

As it would be with Griffin.

If the bluffers of Trinity’s Philosophical Society ultimately want to stop the spread of Griffin’s poisonous ideas, they would do well to give him a platform.

Nothing would contribute more to the collapse of his philosophy than seeing his hatred stillborn on the floor of an Irish debating chamber.

Ireland will have to raise their game to reach Poland/Ukraine

It wasn’t just Irish eyes that were smiling when the Euro 2012 playoff draw was made in Polish city of Krakow – some of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) delegation appeared to be laughing out loud when they were drawn to face Estonia, with the winner heading to next year’s finals.

But despite the protestations of coach Tarmo Ruutli, Ireland probably represents the best possible draw for the Estonians, given that the other alternatives were Portugal, Croatia or the Czech Republic.

“I don’t think the Republic of Ireland were the easiest of our potential opponents,” Ruutli said in a statement after the draw.

“All the teams at this stage are strong and they proved it during the group stage. However, I won’t deny the fact that we wanted to face Ireland more than the others.”

Former Ireland captain Kenny Cunningham didn’t mince his words, telling RTE TV that “everyone would have been leaning towards Estonia. They are the weakest of the teams we could have faced.”

But although they get the results, Ireland’s problem may be that they don’t tend to do well against “weak” teams, despite a plethora of players playing in the English Premiership

They struggled to beat lowly Andorra in their two qualifiers, and suffered the ignominy of conceding a goal to them at home.

Despite being able to field a strike force of Premiership stalwarts like Kevin Doyle and Robbie Keane, Ireland still only managed 15 goals in qualifying – the same number as Estonia.

But even if they haven’t produced fireworks up front, Giovanni Trappatoni’s side are extremely hard to beat, especially on their travels. They were undefeated away from home in the qualifying campaign, picking up 11 points from a possible 15.

In contrast, the Estonians were a little more erratic, winning three and losing two of their five away games.

In a nightmare week in June they lost to both Italy and the Faroe Islands, but then bounced back to rattle off three straight victories and clinch second sport behind Italians.

Despite their remarkable fightback, Kenny Cunningham was clear about how the Irish team should be thinking.

“We should approach the game with real confidence. The players know we have a great chance of going through, but not to get carried away.”

If recent results are anything to go by, the same could be said for the Estonians, so here’s hoping Ireland don’t suffer from the same stage-fright that has afflicted them in many of the key ties in this campaign.