Wednesday 26 October 2016

Brady's magic moment one of the unpredictable glories that football can conjure up

Published 24/06/2016 | 02:30

Robbie Brady greets his partner Kerrie Harris after the win against Italy at the Pierre-Mauroy stadium in Villeneuve-d’Ascq, near Lille, France, on Wednesday Photo: Phillippe Huguen/Getty
Robbie Brady greets his partner Kerrie Harris after the win against Italy at the Pierre-Mauroy stadium in Villeneuve-d’Ascq, near Lille, France, on Wednesday Photo: Phillippe Huguen/Getty

There are two dangers in assessing the kind of emotional force provoked by Ireland's latest national heroes, the footballers Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan.

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One is not to remember that sport is a triviality.

The other, just as serious, is to forget that it is also a magnificent one.

This truth is, of course, one of the oldest in the lives we live and the games we play.

The late Muhammad Ali re-affirmed it almost every time he went into the boxing ring….and every time he walked the streets of a foreign city and brought the traffic to a halt.

Brady and Hoolahan combined for a similar impact in Lille on Wednesday night with a move that uplifted their countrymen's hearts more tumultuously than at any time since the last Irish goal to beat the great football nation of Italy, Ray Houghton's in Giants Stadium in the 1994 World Cup.

So what, the cynic might say, a goal is a goal, a passing phenomenon, does it put food on the national table, does it add a cent to per capita income?

Perhaps not but then who could say it doesn't nourish the heart of a people.

Maybe glory on the sports field or the ring is sometimes an overworked metaphor for what can happen when men and women strive to the limits of their powers on less public stages but also true is the fact that there was nothing fake about the joy that radiated back home from Northern France this week.

What was it really about?

The winning of a single football match? No, it had more to do with identity and pride and the confirmation that once in a while the natural order can be upset, that if the spirit is right and the will sufficiently strong most anything can be achieved.

Martin O'Neill's Irish team have hardly annexed the glory for themselves.

The elation in the Republic was a mirror to the excitement and the pride which gripped Northern Ireland when their team, against all expectations, made it to the knock-out stage against Wales and their celebrated Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale.

There are parties going on now in Zagreb and Split in the wake of Croatia's stunning defeat of reigning European champions Spain to rival the eruptions which are still bubbling all the way from Dublin to Cork.

The boulevards of Budapest are en fete after the resurrection of Hungary - once the world's greatest national team - as are the less elegant ones of Bratislava after Slovakia's battling arrival against the world champions Germany in the round of 16.

Indeed, if the knock-out boys Robbie and Wes would be guaranteed to bring O'Connell Street to a jubilant standstill if they appeared there this morning, we should also consider the effect of Iceland's extraordinary progress through a group which read like an only slightly dated catalogue of great football nations, Portugal, Hungary and Austria.

Iceland, population less than a third of a million, drew with Portugal - and provoked a show of petulance for the ages from the supernova Cristiano Ronaldo - and Hungary.

And when they produced victory over Austria - their first in major tournament football - one of their commentators Gudmundur Benedktsson produced the most ecstatic and hilarious rant since a Norwegian broadcaster celebrated a victory over England, by announcing that his countrymen had sent packing the men from the land of Winston Churchill and Maggie Thatcher.

The abandoned Benedktsson contented himself by jumping up and down with joy. Ironically enough, all this romance has flowed in a format which many considered a grotesque example of football's obscene financial exploitation of the most committed European football fans. Its author, the now discredited former president of the Uefa ruling body and French football hero, Michel Platini, was accused of over-loading the tournament with teams not equipped to join in the final reckoning of the elite.

Teams, ironically enough, like Ireland, Northern Ireland, Slovakia and, supremely, Iceland. Platini, a beautiful player three times voted the best in Europe, is now suspended from the game for accepting an illegal payment for "services" on behalf of the also suspended former Fifa president Sepp Blatter.

In the circumstances it is hard to begrudge the fallen maestro a philosophical smile.

Inadvertently or not, certainly he can claim to have triggered some of the latent, unpredictable glories of a game which many believed, especially at the club level, had become shaped utterly by the force of money.

That idea was also challenged by Claudio Ranieri, the amiable, eccentric who led cut-price Leicester City to the Premier League title under the startled gaze of such financial powerhouses as Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City.

Yesterday, a bemused Italian radio presenter discussed Ireland's triumph over his national team in a voice besieged by shock and awe, and then he said: "But perhaps we can console ourselves, this is the crazy tournament…for example, guess who England plays in the next round, Iceland, yes, Iceland.

"What is the world of football coming to?"

Irish Independent

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