Europa League final: Ally McCoist enjoys the Dublin buzz as Lookman KOs Leverkusen

John O’Shea carries the trophy but there’s still no telling if he’ll hold down the Ireland job

Willkommen Bayer Leverkusen. Benvenuti Atalanta. Although folk who commute through Ballsbridge on your average Wednesday evening, who pay zilch attention to footballing matters, will forever wonder why excited gaggles of German and Italian persons were pottering about the place and delaying their journey home by an hour or three.

If they’d only taken the trouble to have a peak at the sports pages they’d have pulled a sickie, Dublin being the host city for the 2024 Europa League final. And didn’t the stadium look mighty fine?

Richard Dunne, showing no bias at all to his home patch on Virgin Media, was bigging up the city’s ability to host any large event at all. “Spoken like a tourism ambassador there,” said Tommy Martin.

The very unfortunate aspect of Virgin’s coverage was that they hadn’t booked a taxi for the shortish trip from their studios to the Aviva so that Tommy, Richard and Brian Kerr could actually be in the stadium for the game. “You’d love to be there, but this is okay,” Brian lied.


TNT had a better excuse for marooning Peter Crouch and Joe Cole in their base, them being over in Eng-er-land, but they at least flew some of their crew to Dublin, among them Ally McCoist. “Temple Bar has been buzzing,” Becky Ives said to him when they chatted outside the stadium. He beamed in a manner that suggested he had created the bulk of that buzz.

So, how much promise had this final? “This is the equivalent of a Hagler v Hearns boxing match,” Joe promised us, so that was the bar set quite high. Crouchie, meanwhile, assured us that there’d be “goals and excitement”, which left you fretting about the game being settled on penalties after a mind-numbing 0-0 draw. Or worse, being as dull as the Porto v Braga final in Dublin in the dim and distant past of 2011.

After their gobsmacking season, though, Leverkusen, unbeaten in 51 games, were the favourites, their coach Xabi Alonso’s time in Meath evidently standing to him. “Kells toughened him up,” said Brian.

Just ahead of the game, Virgin’s Ann-Marie Keegan had a quick word with John “Interim” O’Shea, and despite her best efforts she couldn’t get him to confirm/deny/hint at his prospects of becoming our permanent gaffer. “You get nothing out of him,” said Tommy, but – and look, hands up, this is a touch superficial – he looked the part in that swanky suit. And he carried that Europa League trophy out on to the pitch with the look of a man who is no stranger to handling silverware. Which he isn’t. But, okay, okay, the canvassing stops here.

Xabi, who as we’ve learned by now has taken Leverkusen from Neverkusen to Neverlusen, would, of course, be a reasonable candidate for the job too, although, admittedly, there might be a greater chance of Jürgen Klopp taking over at Old Trafford for the season ahead, the odds of becoming the next Pope slightly shorter.

No more than his team, Xabi has been invincible this season, with Granit Xhaka, who’d tired of all those Arsenal near-misses, the “heartbeat” of his side, as TNT’s Adam Summerton told us, since he joined last summer. “He’s ticking like a Swiss watch,” he said, immediately before he passed to a man in an Atalanta shirt, putting his side under highly tremendous pressure.

Atalanta? Up for it. It’s a hoot how so many discards from English football make their former employers blush once they set sail for what they call the Continent. Like, say, Harry Kane. Jesting. But look away now Everton, Fulham and Leicester. Ademola Lookman – boom, boom, 2-0. “Magic, that,” said Ally. That it was.

Half-time. TNT took time to tell us that Discovery+ would have 3,800 hours of live action from the Olympics this summer, so there goes the tan. No matter, it’s a question of priorities. And for now, it was the Europa League final.

Could Lookman’s evening get any better? Certainly. Hat-trick. Mad stuff. Ally: “That. Is. Magnificent.” Leverkusen decked much like Hearns was by Hagler, invincibles no more. Kells just didn’t toughen Xabi up enough. Lookman? The Marvellous Marvin of the evening.