I WATCHED Ireland’s exit from the European Championships in subdued silence last night. Mrs Fallon and the kids had long since lost interest in this particular journey. It was a sad end. I had no doubt, however, that a brave face was going to be put on things. The reality was different. The Irish team were again second best, they were lucky this Italian team lacks flair but employed the old Italian strategy of defending a one goal lead.
When Italy did decide to push on a little towards the end as Ireland were reduced to 10 men and Balotelli came on, a second goal was inevitable. Nine goals conceded make Ireland one of the weakest teams to take part in such finals.
The fans would of course sing. The fans should be proud of that; they were a credit to their country. Sadly, I could not help but feel that there was still something wrong. Money flowed into the FAI from 1988 onwards, anyone born then should have had better opportunity than ever before in football and training. They should now be in their footballing prime, yet we seem content to put all recent results down to just having our weakest ever squad of players. The fact that in those 24 years we still haven’t managed a proper nationwide schools soccer competition at primary and secondary level in the manner the GAA does should be a critical concern,
In life, in politics, in business and in sport, there is nothing wrong with failure. Irish fans showed that success and failure can be greeted the same and that is commendable in many ways. It should not be the end of the matter however. Fans are entitled to sing and cheer and should be proud to do so. The problem arises when that singing or cheering is taken as an endorsement. In all areas of life you learn from your failures. You learn because you ask questions, you learn because you criticise and you learn because failure is not a nice feeling and it's not something you want to repeat.
There is a danger, however, that you can become so used to failure that it doesn’t bother you anymore. That is not a good sign. You can hold your head high but failure should still bother you. If losing an election doesn’t bother you then you will never actually get elected. If losing a football match really doesn’t matter then you better get used to losing. There were other weak teams in this tournament that acquitted themselves well. Spain had tough games in their qualifying group. Ireland capitulated utterly on the pitch, particularly against Croatia. Spain may be a mesmerising side but that can never be an excuse to absolve all errors on their opponent’s part.
The Irish management displayed questionable tactics, selections and substitutions. It is only fair that these questions be asked. There is somehow a suggestion developing that if a fan doesn’t sing, if they are down about defeat, if the performances did upset them, then they are somehow less of a fan than those who will cheer and sing regardless. This is simply not true. Irish fans deserved more than they got in terms of effort and play from this Irish side. The gulf in class particularly with Croatia did not merit the final result, nine goals conceded in three games is abysmal for even a very weak side. They were not wonder goals either.
It does point to something greater we need to address. What is our view of failure? There should be no shame in it, that’s true, but are we really afraid to show that we expect more than failure? Are we afraid to demand it? Are we afraid to admit mistakes and try to remedy them?
Time will tell on this front. I suspect however, that when the dust settles, the fans will need to ask some tough questions. When the praise for the fans dies down and the trophies are handed out for the football, then, perhaps, we will start to have a very necessary debate about whether the performance was good enough.
Loyalty can be misplaced and it can also be interpreted wrongly. Fianna Fail displayed huge loyalty to its leaders, even in the depths of a crisis where everyone could see the leadership was failing; loyalty bound many in the party to keep singing. The current government has had failures too, yet its supporters are tempted to keep singing rather than try to say things must change. Most importantly it is the people or the fans that set the tone. I am glad Irish fans did not boo their team or shout abuse, but I also have no doubt that if they had the future of FAI top brass and of the current management would be under a much greater spotlight. Fans need to ensure that that spotlight is still shone by underlining that the singing was a mark of support to the country, not to what they saw on the pitch.
Mistakes are often made and not every mistake deserves harsh punishment. However, mistakes must also be faced and explained, not dismissed. People should be grateful for a second chance rather than presuming it should always be afforded. If we ever want to succeed then failure should bother us.
Johnny Fallon is a political consultant