|Heart, Dedication, Graft. And that’s just the fans. (Pic:thescore.ie)|
Recession. A time for cutbacks, political recriminations, endless dole queues, and for Ireland to qualify for a major football championship.
It seems par for the course that our football team succeed in times of financial hardship, making it that little bit more difficult for fans to travel in support of the players. Not that this deters the dedicated. Credit Unions play their part, rubber stamping “home improvement” loans to lads wearing foam hands. Technically the loans are for home improvements, because if absence makes the heart grow fonder, then when the fans eventually got home from Germany/Italy/USA/Japan and Korea, home looked an awful lot better than it did when they left.
We, the Irish people, follow the Tic Tac philosophy. We all need a little lift from time to time. Our football team has the happy knack of supplying it when our country is at its lowest ebb. Trappatoni may not do Tic Tac tactics, but he and his squad of players have grinded and grafted their way to Poland and Ukraine next summer.
Former publicans across Ireland will be cursing themselves for not hanging on another bit before closing their ailing ale houses. If they had kept the faith, as sure as night follows day and Shay Given is a good goalkeeper, they would have taken in money beyond their wildest dreams. It may indulge the traditional Irish drinking stereotype, but the feel good effect of Ireland in a major championship will mean that those pubs still open will run dry next summer.
Forget the phenomenon of the “Popes Children” Mr McWilliams. The real baby boom happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when a woman just mentioning Paul McGrath would have the equivalent effect of a bitch in heat. Mentioning Schillachi, on the other hand….
Ask any supporter. They would prefer Ireland to play dull football and qualify for every tournament than play Barcelona style football and never reach those heady heights. It may not be pretty, it may not awaken the senses, hell it may be nigh on impossible to watch without imbibing some form of alcohol, but it is effective. Greece won the Euros in 2004 playing largely the same style of football appropriated by Trappatoni, and if you had put it to any Greek fan celebrating on the streets of Athens the night of their triumph that the victory was devalued by the manner of play, they would have rightly laughed in your face and continued crying tears of unadulterated joy.
The similarities between Jack Charlton and Giovanni Trappatoni are well documented. Both managers stuck to their own style of play even amidst clamours from pundits and fans alike for the introduction of flair players. Liam Brady and Andy Reid are two of the most notable casualties (Stephen Ireland’s wounds were self inflicted). However, like Tardelli said (or was it Macchiavelli?) , “the end justifies the means”. Both men managed to do what many others have failed to do; lead Ireland to a major championship. There is already a statue of Jack in Cork Airport. Perhaps in the future pigeons will be able to defecate on a likeness of Trappatoni?
|Jack Charlton Statue, Cork Airport (windowonwoking.org.uk)|
Moving swiftly on to next year, and Ireland are fourth seeds going into the draw on December 2nd. It is unquestionably true that the overall quality of teams in the group stages of the European Championships are a cut above those in the World Cup pots. Because the Euros begin with 16 teams and the World Cup with 32, essentially the former begins with the quality you are likely to see in the first knockout stage (the last 16) of the World Cup. For the neutral observer, this leads to some incredible football. For the loyal Green Army however, it will mean nails bitten to the quick from kick off on day one.
Ireland will have much to do to even get to the knockout stages next year. Some of the combinations possible in Friday’s draw are worthy of note. If Ireland were to draw Spain, Germany, and Portugal, then it would undoubtedly be the group of death for the boys in green. If however, the squad were to come up against Spain, Italy and Greece in the preliminaries, inevitably this would be dubbed the “Group of Debt”. For the thousands of Irish who will keep Michael O’Leary in gold leaf toilet roll next year, all groups will involve considerable debt.
So will next summer live up to all the hype it will inevitably attract in the coming months? You bet. Do you honestly think that Richard Dunne did his Paul McGrath versus Italy impression in Moscow just to be patted patronisingly on the head and sent home to a celebration of mediocrity in the Phoenix Park? Will Robbie Keane want to arrive onto the international main stage for the first time in ten years and leave without a few goals to his name? Will Damien Duff forget how to infuse confused defenders with twisted blood in the fashion he did in the Far East? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are questioning the character and commitment of some of Ireland’s finest ever players.
|Richard Dunne in Moscow (daylife.com)|
It took a while to accept, but Trappatoni’s rigid system has gotten us to where we are now. The team is committed to the system and they will leave nothing in the tank in pursuit of a result. Similiarly, the fans are committed to the team and they will leave nothing in their bank accounts in their quest to be dubbed the world’s greatest fans once again. Back in 1988 Joxer went to Stuttgart by van. Next year thousands of this country’s football followers will invade Eastern Europe by air, by sea, clinging to the axles of a truck if needs be. No matter what, they will be there in droves. One problem. Christy Moore is going to have a hard time finding anything to rhyme with Gdansk.