Friday, September 09, 2005

What Have You Done For Me Lately, Ireland?

The dream is dying!

A few months ago, when FIFA announced the details of the lottery for World Cup 2006 tickets which took place earlier this year (which I enthusiastically but unsuccessfully entered) I got talking about the subject to a colleague of mine of slightly more advanced years, and of infinitely more advanced responsibilities which would preclude him from going to Germany next year. He regaled me, however, on the subject of his trips to that country in 1988 for the European Championships, and to Italy in 1990 for the World Cup.

The tales spilled out like the verses of a Christy Moore song, as this chap Joxer'ed it from Stuttgart to Rome, his eyes sparkling at the memory of being present at those epochal moments in Ireland's history, and the inference I drew was: young man, they were the best of times.

So I didn't get tickets in the first offering, but no matter, I'd be there and sure we'd all get in somehow. It was going to be the big one. Germany, a short hop away, it'd be brilliantly organised, the stadiums and transport would be fantastic, the steins would runneth over and the frauleins would runneth away. Now was the time, with the World Cup not returning to Europe for 12 years, for my generation's turn!

And then there was Israel, and then Henry, and its all slipping away.

It might seem childish to sulk over the Irish team's recent failures denying me a boozy few weeks on the continent, but what is international football for if not to create opportunities for periodical belt-looseningly boozy, jingoistic, sun-burned, fiscally draining, national psyche defining, zeitgeist hugging explosions of ill-advised clothing and ropey ballads?

The dream isn't dead, of course, not just yet. But as we stare down the barrel of a trip to Cyprus without the only player who can be said to possess the necessary spine for it, and as we ponder whether this meek and humble looking collection of players could ever summon the fire to roll over the confounded Swiss in October, the chances of us enjoying a summer for the ages look slimmer all the time.

Something fundamental occured to me in looking at how Ireland have let go so many opportunities to take hold of this torpid group. Ok, we can question Brian Kerr's infamous negativism, the failure to close out so many games, the antics of our friendly Israeli goalkeeper. But Ireland, really have performed to the sum of their parts. They have punched their weight. The problem is that the Ireland which gave my colleague the best summers of his life, which rallied this nation's spirit on all those balmy summer evenings did not do that.

The reason Ireland as football nation achieved the status it did since 1988 was precisely because they were always more than the sum of their parts. They made dreams come true, they did the impossible, they slung-shot the giants with impudence. Ireland's greatest days were laced with good fortune on occasion, but were absolutely always coated in an indefatigable spirit and courage. Of course their were poor days much worse than last Wednesday night, but its been so long now since Ireland really rose above what they are, a collection of decent footballers and a few very good ones, that I've forgotten what that feeling was like.

Perhaps its Brian Kerr's overly measured management, and perhaps its the absence of a truly granite will within the current squad, and perhaps the fading of Roy Keane's fire shows how we over relied on him for that. But right now it feels like it'll be long time before the nation will don novelty leprechaun hat and cry happily in a foreign field at the derring-do of eleven men in green.

Wonder what I'll be doing in 12 years....?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

whilst i share your angst at the strong possibility of ireland not qualifying for next summers world cup, may i point out that you can still travel to germany in june. you may even see a higher standard of football.

10:30 a.m.  

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