Here's how Ireland can win Euro 2016 and lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy
GIVEN the welcome absence of any Irish players being involved in racist behaviour in a casino; similar antics among a few of them during a dalliance with a lady on a pre-season tour or a player convicted of throttling his girlfriend, Ireland are already behind in their preparation when it comes to “doing a Leicester”.
Manager Martin O’Neill has already “done a Leicester” with Leicester when they won the League Cup in 1997 and 2000 and Leicester will be the buzzword for every underdog in the European Championships.
Unfortunately, their success means that it is now mandatory to aim for half a dozen references to Leicester in any article about an unlikely event so here’s how, with some luck, Ireland can indeed manage to “do a Leicester” (last one) — minus the aforementioned unpleasantness.
The scenario begins in slightly inauspicious circumstances, however, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic proves himself to be the best player on the Stade De France pitch by some distance in the opener with two goals in the opening half hour.
However, when a team-mate dares not to pass the ball to him moments before half-time, a furious row ensues where Zlatan declares that he could beat Ireland on his own and his team-mates decide to let him.
Facing up to the entire Irish team, but with the advantage of second-half tip-off, Ibrahimovic does indeed complete his hat-trick moments after the break.
However, once they figure out how to break the one-man offside trap, Ireland roar back for a 4-3 victory which, given how two thirds of the teams who enter qualify for the knock-out stages, means they are already nearly into the last 16.
In keeping with the season several of their players endured in the Premier League, Belgium effectively don’t turn up for the game against Italy, which leads to a heavy defeat. However, they muscle up for a bruising game against Ireland with Marouane Fellaini and Christian Benteke both finding the net while trying to control the ball.
The game also sees Shane Long channel his inner hurler and smash Toby Alderweireld with a tackle. Unfortunately for Long, unlike hurling, it is possible for him to be sent off in the Euros and he leaves the field muttering something about “a man’s game” and “not a dirty stroke”.
Attention is taken away from the defeat the following day, however, as Conor McGregor announces that he is to fight Floyd Mayweather and, with his ad for a well-known drinks company recently banned, he is declared a marketing genius when he announces: “If your dream doesn’t scare you, bud, it isn’t big enough.”
Recognising how much publicity such an event receives, Robbie Keane decides to challenge a horse to a finishing competition from a distance described as “Robbie range”.
The event immediately pushes McGregor v Mayweather down the news agenda — prompting one of them to pull out through injury — but tragedy strikes when the horse, after netting his fifth shot from five yards, wheels away in celebration, attempts a cartwheel and breaks a hoof.
In tribute to the horse, the word “hoof” becomes the Ireland’s game-plan for the game against Italy and, as O’Neill pores over some former meetings between the teams, he decides to call up Noel Hunt to partner Keane for the must-win game.
“I hope Keane and Hunt will be a stunning, cunning stunt,” declares O’Neill in a video which goes viral. However, it proves to be a masterstroke as, just like during the game in 2009, both are near the ball when the winning goal is struck. The Keane/Hunt name amalgamation almost breaks Twitter but as Hunt claims the goal, Keane’s limp after his cartwheel celebration in tribute to Hoofy the Horse wins the hearts and minds of the following day’s Liveline. Hunt is banished, never to be heard from again.
Elsewhere in the group, Zlatan’s sending off in the second game against Italy leaves him suspended for Sweden’s final game against Belgium, which sees Belgium handed a walk-over, allowing them to nip into third spot, behind Ireland and group winners Italy.
Elsewhere in the competition, England top Group B to set up a last 16 meeting with Romania and convince themselves they will end however many years of hurt they have now endured. Belgium’s third place sees them play Spain, while Austria, stunningly, top Group F and meet Ireland.
A pre-match injury to Christian Fuchs — whoever he plays for — allows for “Fuchs’ Ache” headlines to run in every Irish newspaper while a profile of Toni Polster also features prominently.
Long returns to score the winner while O’Neill’s latest #stunningcunningstunt, sees him scan through previous matches and put five players marking David Alaba.
In the other last 16 games, Switzerland, in a repeat of the worst game ever seen at an international tournament, beat Ukraine to gain revenge for their 2006 defeat. Eden Hazard finally wakes up to see Belgium stun Spain as David De Gea watches confused from the bench with Iker Casillas in goal; Germany beat Russia to set up a meeting with Italy. France beat Poland and meet Wales, who are inspired by Gareth Bale in the last 16 clash with Portugal as he scores the winning goal, gets Cristiano Ronaldo sent off and then celebrates with a wink.
England, having beaten Romania, meet Ireland in the quarter-final on July 1. However, the game comes a week after the Brexit referendum decides to leave the European Union. UEFA are lobbied by a powerful Irish delegation and a press release confirms the success of the group who argued that with England no longer in the European Union, they should be kicked out of the European Championships and, in true GAA style, Ireland progress with a walkover.
Sadly, the same fate befalls Wales, who are chucked out before they can meet France. Germany set up a meeting with the host country by beating Italy while hopes of an all-neutral-semi-final are ended when Belgium beat Switzerland to set up a meeting with Ireland. The Swiss console themselves by the fact that at least their flag was a big plus.
O’Neill’s pattern of studying previous games again proves useful in the semi-final when Fellaini and Benteke both score own goals while trying to control the ball and Ireland march into the final against Germany on July 10.
Flag banter around Angela Merkel is off-the-charts in Paris while the crowd at the Munster hurling final still argue vehemently that theirs is the biggest event of the day.
Before the game, stories emerge that O’Neill has showed the players a video of Hoofy the Horse making a full recovery to leap over a fence which, back in the RTE studio, allows Eamon Dunphy to break through the 100-mark of references to Ruby Walsh.
“If Hoofy can get over that hurdle, so can you,” O’Neill tells his players, who reproduce the same trick that saw them beat Germany in Lansdowne Road as Darren Randolph skilfully plays the ball over the top — clearly not a hoof — Long races through and plants the ball past Manuel Neuer and “doing an Ireland” becomes the new buzzphrase when it comes to underdogs.
Robbie Keane lifts the trophy, hops aboard Hoofy and the pair of them ride off into the sunset.