A nation in grips of hysteria as Ireland eye quarter-finals of the World Cup
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Italia 90, we will be reliving all the action from that memorable World Cup
PRAY for the leaders of Europe meeting in Dublin tomorrow and competing with a game of soccer in Italy for the attention of the Irish people.
The fate of European unity will be put into perspective by the prospect of Ireland doing to Romania what their miners did to passers-by in Bucharest.
By nature the Irish are not an insular or triumphalist people, but for some months now the country has been smitten by a series of violent mood swings which merit examination.
The symptoms intensified dramatically a fortnight ago when England failed to humble us and the country ascended into vertiginous elation.
Then we plummeted to irritable and irrational frustration because the Egyptians didn't go meekly to an early bath last Sunday.
By the end of Thursday evening, we were whooshed up a giddy precipice of euphoria holding Holland in check.
Comparable mass hysteria attended the Pope's visit 11 years ago but that was stage-managed by the good and the grand and handed down to the hoi ' polloi. The difference is that this soccer phenomenon is being generated spontaneously from below and finding its own level.
There are disturbing similarities to religious fanaticism too: one passionate soccer commentator is being pursued as a heretic by an outraged people behaving like Muslim zealots.
He had dared question the tactics written in stone by Jack Charlton, now cast as a latter-day soccer Moses leading the national squad to the Promised Land.
But then Big Jack is now an honorary Irishman, and with his Pentland Dell potato face, could easily be mistaken for a testy delegate at a Fianna Fail Ard Fheis.
The message is clear: let no man halt the march of a blissed-out nation in search of its soccer destiny.
In the badlands of Group F, in the exile of the Italian islands marked "There be Dragons" on World Cup maps, our travelling supporters have been stricken with Boy Scout Syndrome.
Strong men who growl at Irish barmen and cheerfully litter their home town streets are raising their caps to the Carabinieri and doing voluntary social work abroad.
When will these symptoms release their grip on a virgin soccer nation? Would winning the World Cup case or exacerbate them?
The restraint and caution against absenteeism urged by employers for tomorrow have, in the language of the plain-talking Jack Charlton, bugger-all hope of keeping the employed from the televisual umbilical cord to Genoa tomorrow afternoon.