Wednesday 28 September 2016

Sinead Kissane: Time for this Irish team to create a new set of Euro Championship memories

At last, a sense of disillusionment makes way for some hope and magic

Published 21/11/2015 | 02:30

Ireland legend Robbie Keane
Ireland legend Robbie Keane

The makers of Christmas TV ads should have made it their business to be at the Aviva Stadium on Monday night. I don't know about you but watching the celebrations on TV after the Republic of Ireland's win made me feel like a kid again in a way that a £7m (€10m) John Lewis Christmas TV ad could never ever do.

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I loved the way Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane hugged after the final whistle. I loved the way O'Neill tried to drag Keane into the centre of the pitch so he could lap up the applause of supporters and then Keane's refusal to be dragged into anything he didn't want to do (some things never change). And I loved seeing Jon Walters being adored by fans because he deserves to be adored.

There is something about those big Republic of Ireland nights that makes me feel sentimental and nostalgic. I don't want to use Christmas as an easy metaphor but there was a magic about Monday night.

And why wouldn't there be.

The Republic of Ireland team has a historical, emotional hold and status which isn't matched by the Irish rugby team. If, like me, you were a kid growing up during the '80s and '90s, then the big days the Republic of Ireland enjoyed during those years were part of our youth.

Memories

The day after the win at the Aviva Stadium on Monday night, I texted my dad to see what his stand-out memories were of us watching Ireland games at home in Kerry. Here's what he texted back: "Italia '90 and throwing up the sweets after we drew with England. Going to a rounders game after Ireland beat Romania. In Templemore at the Munsters (track and field championships) when Houghton scored in Euro '88. In Waterford at the Munsters when Houghton scored against Italy in '94. Playing soccer on the green in Banna after the games."

Because of Euro '88, Italia '90 and USA '94 we have a whole list of "do you remember where you were when…" moments. Not only that, it is easier to recall what else was going on around those big matches because of how you felt.

I don't think I would remember going to play that game of rounders in preparation for the Community Games if it wasn't for the absolute giddiness we felt after Ireland beat Romania. I don't think I would remember that weekend in Waterford at the underage Munster Track and Field Championships if it wasn't for the Saturday evening spent watching the Italy game with my friends and club-mates and how we jumped and roared when Houghton scored that goal.

The Republic of Ireland team of the late '80s and '90s was the first national team which introduced me, as a kid, to winning and losing on a global stage. It wasn't just what the team did on the pitch, it was how we all shared it, celebrated it and just went flippin' bonkers after it. The team taught us probability and possibility and everything in between. Of hope. Of disappointment. Of giving it a lash. Of putting 'em under pressure.

To this day, no sports song or anthem gives me instant goose-bumps like those first few twangs of Put 'em Under Pressure. It's more than a song. It's a soundtrack to a time when we let ourselves go and dared to believe.

There is no scientific or mathematical way of measuring what watching the Republic of Ireland in a major tournament did for our confidence and happiness as kids playing sport. But undoubtedly, we got some kind of bounce off it.

On top of that, sport as presented to us, was much more innocent back then. As kids, we didn't know anything about corruption in sport. Or extortion. Or EPO. Or systematic, state-sponsored doping. For me, all we wanted to do was take part in everything from athletics to Gaelic football to soccer to hockey to camogie to rounders to imagining you were playing in Wimbledon on the front lawn at home.

That was the late '80s and '90s for me. That was the Jack Charlton years. Those memories are all tied in with each other.

But besides the nostalgia that Monday night created, we just needed that win.

We needed that win because becoming disillusioned with the Republic of Ireland team had started to become a default setting at times in the past decade. Irrespective of the fact that we qualified for Euro 2012, the Giovanni Trapattoni era made it hard to get excited about the team because of the way we played.

We needed that win on Monday night because we needed to feel good about ourselves again. We needed to prove to ourselves that we weren't going to mess it up just because qualification for the Euros was within our grasp. I want to see O'Neill and Keane succeed with Ireland and it felt good to watch the celebrations with a huge smile on your face without even realising you were smiling.

We needed that win because the Rugby World Cup didn't end the way we had hoped. And please, don't bore me with any pointless guff of comparing the soccer team with the rugby team and who's better (equally with anyone who gives out about folk hopping on the bandwagon. It's our national team, so it belongs to us all).

We desperately needed a pick-me-up after the rugby and this is something O'Neill mentioned on Off the Ball during the week: "With the disappointment of the rugby side, where there was a great opportunity - I'm not saying to win the tournament against New Zealand as that was always going to be difficult, but perhaps the semi-final - it felt like taking the baton on. And, if we hadn't made it, it might have been a lot of drudgery around Christmas time."

We needed that win because sport means a hell of a lot to us.

Perspective

After the terror attacks in Paris last weekend, commentators have been reminding us that those atrocities put sport into perspective. Of course they do. But sport also helps give us perspective. It gives us a chance to stand together like fans did at the Aviva Stadium on Monday night for the moment's silence and publicly show our support for those who died in Paris. Sport is a common denominator in our lives and it is an opportunity to express ourselves freely. Maybe, more than anything, we needed that win on Monday night just to have something to look forward to next summer. Maybe it's like those traditional Christmas TV ads which have started to re-appear and make you realise that you're a year older. It's time to create new memories through a different Republic of Ireland team.

Supporting the Republic of Ireland is many things.

It's watching John Giles and Eamon Dunphy on TV. It's being there. It's debating the game and the team. It's Saipan. It's taking sides. It's Jack Charlton and Packie Bonner. It's tradition. It's Keano. It's family, it's friends and it's the fans.

It's the future and it's next summer. It's the past and it's your childhood.

It's playing soccer on the green in Banna beach after the games.

It's life.

Irish Independent

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