Friday 21 October 2016

Unlike some, the brave Boys in Green didn't want to sever any ties with Europe

Published 27/06/2016 | 02:30

Republic of Ireland's Robbie Brady applauds supporters after the final whistle. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire.
Republic of Ireland's Robbie Brady applauds supporters after the final whistle. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire.

Ireland we thank you for your courage, your skill and, most of all, for giving us back our pride.

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After all the talk of breaking away from the EU over the past few days, for a while we were the Kings of Europe. Maybe we still are.

Five million of us jumped up together and landed at the same time when Robbie Brady from Baldoyle scored in the very first minute of yesterday's game against France.

The people of the Isle of Man, just over the way, moved to high ground.

No one was left un-kissed. The falling-out families who hadn't spoken for 40 years hugged.

There wasn't a Sunday dinner eaten. Gravy went tepid and the chicken was as dry as a day in the Dáil. The stomach nerves were jiggy electric fences. How could we eat with all this going on?

Then the dream ended in a three-minute spell. The man who dashed our hopes was a boy. Antoine Griezmann is that young-looking he wouldn't be let in to a nightclub even with valid ID. He was the baby-faced artist-assassin, the breaker of a nation's dreams.

Our boys were worn out from the fierce heat but we never gave up.

Our fans were outnumbered 10 to one thanks to the snaffling of the tickets by Uefa for the home fans. But they sang and cheered as if there were megaphone implants in their throats.

Uefa fixed this one up to favour the hosts. France had a seven-day break and we had only three.

The match arrangements took its toll. Ireland were exhausted from the huge efforts of the first half and the game in Lille - and it told on the scoreboard.

If the big boys don't get you with a dodgy Henry handball, they'll stitch you up another way.

Now our boys are heading for home and I'm sad for them. I was there in the middle of all those partying Irish supporters for a few days. Fáilte Ireland could have no better ambassadors. We showed Europeans, and those at home who live lives far too ordinary, how to live, or to be more specific, how to live it up.

The Irish put the joie back into vivre. Now though, we have to face a desperate dose of reality.

We have to deal with the Brexit. The cursed Brexit will make life very tricky for some time to come. The Brexit means we will be the last rock left, all on our own, on the edge of a stormy Atlantic.

No one rightly knows what will happen but for sure it will have a huge impact on all of our lives. So what do we do? The usual. We make a joke or panic.

My friend from the Northern unionist community said: "It took you lot 700 years to get your freedom, we did it in one day."

The careful man who reads the paper in the library and squeezes out the last of the toothpaste with a pliers told me he was taking his money out of the post office and lodging it in the Bank of O'Dearest, which means under the mattress for those of you of the Ikea generation.

There will be severe withdrawal symptoms but, in the short term, most of us are suffering too much from our exit out of the European soccer championship at the hands of the French to get down to figuring out the fine detail of the Brexit.

So let's do a reality check. What is reality? Maybe the glory of our boys in France is reality. Oscar Wilde wrote: "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life." Why can't life imitate sport? Maybe if we look to our sporting heroes there will be guidance and encouragement.

Darren Randolph is our goalkeeper. His dad, Ed, is African-American and came here to play basketball. Darren was born in Bray. He was heroic and cool in two ways. Cool as in excellent and cool as in calm under pressure.

Everyone loves Randolph. There are boys and girls with darker skin all over Ireland who will walk a little taller because of Randolph.

The kids with English accents who are more Irish than the Irish at home get picked on anyway because of the way they speak. The Irish abroad have to work hard to stay Irish. Jonathan Walters' goals got us to France. He was born in England and his mother was Irish. Jonathan has a Mersey accent and he gives his all for his country every time he pulls the green shirt over his head.

It's more than just kicking a ball up and down the pitch. Our team and our fans have helped refine and redefine what it is to be Irish.

Martin O'Neill was born in Derry but he has lived in England a good many years. Here's a quote from an address Martin made at Áras an Uachtaráin.

"I have spent almost 40 years out of the country. I feel as Irish as the day I left. I feel as proud as the day I left and that will never change."

It's no wonder our team played with such passion.

"To our young people," he said, "you are young, very young. I honestly don't know what life holds for you. You should grasp it, go with it. You are basically our future and I think you should be exceptionally proud of being Irish. You will survive and you will prosper."

If there's one thing we can take from the performances of our teams it is that we should be exceptionally proud to be Irish.

We can fan the dying embers of the European dream into an eternal flame. Our team never gave up and neither should we. Can we not cheer for Ireland the country with the same passion? We are subjected to a relentless barrage of negativity. It is always easier to crib than to create.

It's all about country and family. Robbie Brady went up into the stands to be with his partner and his family after our win over Italy. You could see just how much they meant to him. His little sister Amber and his mum were back home.

Amber made it all seem so easy, so simple, saying: "I love him and I'm proud of him." Her words melted all of our hearts.

It's the ways families should be with each other. It's the way we should feel about our country.

Sometimes when you lose, you actually win.

Irish Independent

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