Monday 9 December 2019

Get our boys to Euro 2012 Trap, and you will never, ever be forgotten

After a week of disappointments on the football front Louis Jacob speaks from the heart

I swear that Graham Greene must have been thinking about what it must be like to support the Republic of Ireland football team when wrote the words, "Despair is the price one pays for setting oneself an impossible aim." In fact, I'm certain of it.

Following last week's profound disappointments on the international stage, I feel the need to say a few things to Giovanni Trapattoni, a few things from the heart:

Irish managers are to Irish football what wives were to Henry VIII, with Jack Charlton as the living reincarnation of Catherine of Aragon. I came to support the Irish team when Charlton was in his pomp. It was a brave world of possibility and achievement, qualification for big tournaments was becoming a given. There was innocence, a golden age of players, with another golden age in promise. As our elegant warriors, McGrath and Whelan were in a glorious final stage of their careers, a new breed of hardened pros, more that you could put your trust in, were romping through to take their place.

We were in the capable hands of new men. Roy Keane and Denis Irwin were beginning to define the Manchester team of the era and the precocious Shay Given was beginning to show signs that life after Packie Bonner might not necessarily be the car crash of goals conceded which might have been expected.

In the Giants Stadium in 1994, on a day which has now come to define the Charlton years, Ray Houghton scored a spectacular if not fortunate goal against the Italians and avenged the defeat in Rome four years earlier. We had beaten the Italians 1-0 at the World Cup finals. Yes we had. We had beat the Azzuri. We had outmatched them. I remember, in a flurry of excitement, telling my then girlfriend that it didn't matter that the Italians were better looking and probably more stylish than us, the fact was that we were going to win the World Cup.

I was certain of it. The thing that none of us could have known on that spectacular June day in '94 was that not only would that victory define the Charlton years, it would ultimately crown them. The remainder of that World Cup was largely forgettable and we bowed out with a whimper against the Dutch.

Two years later a jaded and bruised Irish team were given another lesson in football by a young and stylish Dutch outfit, ending Ireland's dream of going to the European Championships. Charlton took his bow and was gently put out to pasture, ever to be remembered and cherished as our gaffer of hearts.

Since then, bar one noble skirmish in the Far East, it has been a barren haul of false starts, disappointments and frustration.

Mick McCarthy will probably never get his dues. In hindsight, he did a highly credible job in picking Ireland up off the floor and managing (albeit in four attempts) to haul us to a major finals in what had become an increasingly difficult qualification process, and he almost achieved the impossible feat of maintaining a working relationship with the nuclear fall out zone of Roy Keane's personality... almost... not quite.

We never liked Mick though. It was that arrogance, that palpable insecurity which ensured that he would never win our hearts and he was ultimately destined to be crucified as a man who had seemingly committed some major form of high treason. As yet, I find it very hard to actually put my finger on what he did wrong.

Nobody knows what Brian Kerr did wrong. Kerr was deemed a failure by the new men of the FAI before he even had the chance to fail and was banished from court. Kerr eventually found his way to the distant Faroe Islands and every true Ireland fan would be lying if they didn't admit to keeping a distant eye on his exploits there, working with a team that would have problems giving Baltimore FC a game, in the West Cork League. There are many of us who believe Kerr should be given a second chance. We do not hold our collective breath.

With Kerr dispensed with, the FAI held true to their promise of an imminent 'world class' manager by raiding Walsall, a club in the nether regions of the football league and returning with the prize of their assistant manager and Irish footballing legend Steven Staunton. Staunton promised us the world, and immediately demonstrated the uncanny powers of his astute footballing nous by reappointing Mick Byrne, the lovable physio from the Charlton years. And then... hell.

I don't think anyone who doesn't support the Irish team could possibly understand the intensity of the torture of those years.

Now we have Giovanni Trapattoni. Trap's biggest flaw is how much we like him. He's our kind of man. He's been around. He's elegant but not stuffy. He's the kind of guy you would like as your grandfather. You'd love him to relate old tales of distant battles at the pinnacle of the game.

The truth is that a very small amount of success would carry him a very long way in our affections. And under Trap's guidance we have come so close. We have seen the mountain. We still have a few good men in Robbie Keane, Richard Dunne Damian Duff and Shay Given.

Graham Greene also wrote that 'Only the man of goodwill carries always in his heart this capacity for damnation'. Maybe our only hope is that we are no longer men of good will. We are greedy for success. Get us to Poland Trap and you will never be forgotten.

Sunday Independent

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