Thursday 20 July 2017

Trap's boys give nation a lift glory days return for Green Army

Job done: Ireland have booked their spot in the 2012 European Championships
Damien Duff and Robbie Keane take part in a lap of honour as Ireland sealed qualification for Euro 2012 at the Aviva Stadium
Irish fans enjoy the party atmosphere at the Aviva Stadium

Mark Hilliard

WE'RE back - Irish football has returned to the big time, dragging a depleted national pride behind it.

Even as Trap's boys could only bag a draw last night, the country was finally given some good news and 'Ole!' rang out around the nation.

Not even Estonia's second half equaliser could do much to bring us down; after ten years in the wilderness, the green army is on the march again.

Last night, football beckoned the sort of good times not seen in 10 years. Even before kick-off, there was a sense of celebration, our four-goal cushion against Estonia -- if punctuated by a looming sense of caution -- seemed enough to ensure the sell-out crowd could leave its nerves and reservations at the door.

Nobody wanted to say it too loud, but surely victory was guaranteed.

History

"We will get to see a bit of history for a change, proper history," said 46-year-old Paul Morgan, who was desperate to bring his son, Paul Jnr, to the game. They managed to secure last-minute tickets outside the ground.

"He's never seen them get to the finals or anything like that," his father said, clutching their tickets tightly.

"He's only 10. He would have been a baby when they got to Japan. I said it to him that I would give him an early Christmas present. He comes everywhere with me."

As the game kicked off, the 51,000 sell-out crowd -- a first for a football match here -- sang and cheered with the assuredness of a country with a 4-0 buffer and 90 minutes of technicality football.

The voices beat the glass stadium with ferocity and when, after five minutes, Robbie Keane should have scored, any outside chance of an Estonian upset was a distant nightmare.

"It might have been great in one way if it was edge-of-the-seat sort of stuff, but it will be a great party barring any complete disasters," said Colin Yeates (34), from Dublin, with the same nervous caveat used by most fans on the way in. Could we lose? Don't tempt fate.

"I think the tie is effectively over," said Ronan O'Sullivan (29), from Templeogue. "You could be fairly comfortable, we're already talking about the easiest and cheapest way to get to Poland and Ukraine."

Back on the pitch, things were edging closer to our fait accompli. Those dangerous words became less so with every minute that ticked by. The noise rose in waves around the Aviva.

"It's an electrically strong atmosphere," said Greg Walker (40), who travelled from Cork.

"There's a sense of celebration around the country. The way forward now is to go and win the European Championships and to beat Spain in the final! Ah, I'm only joking, but it's a great atmosphere."

Getting ahead of ourselves? Aren't we entitled to? Look what Jack Charlton ushered in with Italia 90, when every man, woman and child knew what it meant "to put them under pressure" or to "really shake 'em up".

"There will be a hangover tomorrow anyway," continued Greg of the national inevitable celebration.

"I think Trap and the boys will be seen in a new light because, at the start of the campaign, people didn't expect them to do so well."

Trevor O'Donnell (31), from Blessington, Co Wicklow, explained that it really never was about last night at all. It's about our future and, in these heady times, the importance of knowing there is one."

When Stephen Ward scored on the half-hour mark, even the most paranoid of fans could finally relax. For a whole new generation of Irish kids, the glory years were coming home.

President Michael D Higgins couldn't have picked a better week to start -- as he met the players, he knew he was already on the cusp of something special.

Last night, he paid tribute to the players whose achievement had lifted the spirits of the nation. "It is just reward for a fantastic squad of committed players who, under the astute leadership of Giovanni Trapattoni and the motivating captaincy of Robbie Keane, have worked tirelessly," he said.

"All of us Irish people can now look forward to next summer when Ireland will take its place at the heart of European football, when Euro 2012 stadia will resound to the enthusiastic voices of Ireland's sporting ambassadors and when the rest of us at home, with pride in our hearts, will cheer on our soccer heroes to more success."

Irish Independent

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