Ten years of deflated summers watching other nations battle it out for European and World championships were brought to an end on Tuesday when Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland laboured their way through a 1-1 draw with Estonia, confirming our place in the final 16 that will travel to Poland or Ukraine in 2012.
It was already a formality when it came to Dublin due to the flattering 4-0 away win for the boys in green, but, even so, it was hard not to flash back to the nasty incident with Thierry Henry two years before, even for just the one intoxicated moment.
Most people will agree, although many reluctantly, that Les Blues' robbery in Paris was the single most traumatizing moment to happen in Irish sporting history. Unfortunately, things like that bring the worst out in nations—spitting prejudice slurs, cursing officials—but no one NEEDED to be there more than Ireland, for all of our financial disarray and the dark times that we were in.
Many of us stopped using Gillette; oh yes, that’s the type of people we are. 'If that Henry’s in the ad, we’ll take the Wilkinson Sword, shopkeeper.’
For the days after, a nation sat in front of TV screens while Sepp Blatter laughed at the silly little country beside England that wanted the match replayed, and we were insulted by our own chief of football, John Delaney, when instead of replay, requested that they make a five team group for the first round of the World Cup Finals—don’t hold your breath John.
“It’s ‘cause they’re French”, we’d say, “that Michel Platini and Sepp Blatter up in the stands there celebrating Thierry Henry’s ‘goal.' They should be shamed of themselves cheating us out of the World Cup.”
And who knows, maybe the ref did see it. I certainly agree that it was better from FIFA’s point of view to have the all-star French cast there rather than the fighting Irish, a term that is more visible than ever through Trap’s form of football.
One thing is for sure: the Estonian people should have felt a similar pang of frustration when they saw their boys go down 4-0 at home.
The referee gave us everything, a penalty and two sent off left it an easy enough task for us, and some couldn’t help but think that FIFA had it rigged again, but this time it was at Estonia’s expense, a team that have never qualified for an international competition.
It wasn’t an easy ride for Giovanni Trapattoni, and he must think that Irish people are very strange given the fact that half the nation were calling for his head after we went down 3-2 to Russia in Moscow last year.
The complaints were mainly made about his selection, and these continued right up until Tuesday when we eventually qualified.
It started with Kevin Kilbane, who has been an absolutely brilliant player for the Republic of Ireland in his left back role. However, the clock has been ticking for quite awhile, and the man we affectionately refer to as “Zinadine Skillbane” has lost so much pace and now works between League 1 and the Championship for starting places.
Most critics called for O’Shea to be moved out to the left, where he had played on many occasion for Sir Alex Ferguson during his time at Manchester United, and then bring in the tenacious right sided Seamus Coleman at full back.
Trap had other plans again, and brought Stephen Ward in, a man who had only been playing up front for Irish side Bohemians three years before, to do the job that once was held down by the most passionate man in a green shirt.
Since then, the absence of Coleman has been the center piece to every pub conversation when a fixture is coming up in addition to the exclusion of Wigan’s James McCarthy.
Although there is no doubt that Glenn Whelan has become a far better player due to Trapattoni’s molding of him into the Gattuso role, we are still missing a bit of flair in the middle that the young man could bring, something that neither Whelan or Keith Andrews can offer in all honesty.
But that seems to be the case with the Italian—he wants player to do what their told to do and fit in with a system that will make Ireland “hard to beat.” These are the words of the football God’s of our country–John Giles, Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy.
It is their belief that he has looked for players that best fit the bill of being hard working, industrious and defensively-minded, because they will fit into the style of the game he’s trying to play.
Is that really a good enough excuse not to have Coleman in the side? No, it isn’t.
Whatever about McCarthy, he’s still young and will eventually prove his worth, but Seamus Coleman is THE outstanding talent in Irish Football at the moment, and he too works very hard when he plays for Everton, up and down the wing like roadrunner for 90 minutes every week for the Goodison side.
There really is no point in playing Aidan McGeady and leaving Coleman out if we are to believe that the selection of the team is based on the virtues of how hard a player works and their ability to sit back and be defensive.
But sure, maybe it’s time we leave that talk alone. We’re there and finally, I’ll get to a chance to watch my country play in an international tournament with a pint in my hand, legally.
There are legends in amongst them men: Shay Given, one of the greatest goalkeepers in the history of the Premier League, Richard Dunne, who is at the moment, on of the best in the league, Robbie Keane, who will be there or thereabouts when it comes to the starting 11 in the finals and Damien Duff, who has always given everything he could when he wore the green shirt.
It will be their last crack of the whip in these finals, certainly for Duff and Keane anyway, and we can’t wait to see them get out there one more time and give us something to shout about that doesn’t involve taxes or rates of unemployment.
Trapattoni, overnight it would almost seem, has become a legend in the country after all of the talking down the media have given him. He has got us to the finals of a major international tournament and we should probably trust him now, because plenty never thought we were going to do it.
On Tuesday, a look into the crowd and saw grown men crying while our heroes walked around the pitch and soaked up the atmosphere. Not a single person appeared to have left while the boys in green enjoyed their lap of honor.
It proves the level of importance the sport has in the country, at worst it can make us hate, make us divided and make us envious but at best, it can stand to represent everything that we are, strong, resilient and ready to stand our ground no matter who tries to move us.
IN TRAP WE TRUST.