It doesn't matter what kind of player Neil Taylor is, Seamus Coleman has a broken leg
“Are you saying all the bad challenges were from us?” Chris Coleman asked afterwards.
The Wales manager was holding his ground and defending his players in a combative press conference, but nobody could answer with a defiant, “Yes!”. There were a lot of angry Irish voices in the press room but nobody could stand up and say Wales had provided all the aggression.
Yet Wales didn’t have a player spending Friday night in a hospital with a left leg horribly broken as Seamus Coleman’s had been.
Neil Taylor’s tackle had been the culmination of sixty seconds of frenzied, untrammelled chaos from a Wales side which seemed to briefly lose its mind. First, Gareth Bale went in high on John O’Shea and probably should have been sent off and then Taylor ended Coleman’s season with a brutal tackle.
“Challenges like that don’t belong on a football pitch,” Coleman conceded afterwards, but he insisted Taylor was “not that kind of player", whatever that means.
A player will be defined by what he does and while Coleman must now begin a brutal and long rehabilitation programme, the man who broke his leg will have to fall back on these empty words.
“You don’t want to see anything nasty or sinister,” Taylor’s international manager said, perhaps revealing that even in this noble attempt to defend his player as all managers feel they must, he was attempting to defend the indefensible.
Taylor, who was “devastated”, had visited the Irish dressing room to apologise after the game, but Seamus Coleman was already in the hospital, contemplating the bleakness that will be his long recovery.
The game didn’t hinge on this incident, but it was defined by it and the other wild tangles which, as Coleman said, didn’t only come from the Welsh players.
Glenn Whelan had appeared to elbow Joe Allen shortly before half time and Shane Long left an arm and a leg in on Ashley Williams when he tried to close him down.
Williams complained for some time, but none of these moments had the consequences of Taylor’s challenge or the recklessness of Bale’s.
Chris Coleman’s players appeared desperate in these moments, even if Ireland had shown there was little to fear from Martin O’Neill’s side.
Before the game, there was a school of thought that Ireland’s supposed injury crisis was somewhat exaggerated.
In fact, this argument went, Ireland could call on most of their regular players for the game on Friday night and there was little or nothing to be concerned about. At the end of the game, this appeared to be the problem. Ireland could indeed call on most of their regular players and they ended up playing as they so often did. If Coleman hadn't been horribly injured, nobody would have remembered this game.
Without Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan, Ireland could offer a cheaper version of their usually limited offering.
Afterwards Martin O’Neill reflected on Ireland’s group at the halfway stage and said he would have “probably” have taken eleven points at this stage. He then corrected himself and said he would certainly have taken eleven points.
Both managers felt Ireland could have won the game in the final twenty minutes, but by that stage Coleman might have agreed to anything as he was happy to get the subject off his players.
“Your boys aren’t coming off with halos on their heads,” Coleman said at one point as he talked about the needle in the game and in that he had a point but the injury to Ireland’s captain ensured it was a hard argument to make.
Coleman insisted he wasn’t complaining about Ireland’s approach, that football was a contact sport and he was sorry that a player he admires was facing a long time out of the game.
Football is a contact sport, but it is also a game which depends on players remaining aware of the consequences of their actions. Neil Taylor may not be the kind of player who breaks a player’s leg, but he made a reckless tackle which broke a player's leg. Nothing else matters, certainly not to Seamus Coleman this weekend.