THE love of one's country is a terrible thing, but it was beautiful on Wednesday. That game, that crushing decision, painted Irish men at their best.
enerations were there or thereabouts -- the great player and pundit Johnny Giles, whose steady nerve and legendary courtesy has been part of football's story throughout my life; and the lads, the heroic warriors who went into Stade de France as underdogs and showed the world you couldn't ignore the Irish.
Watching the match was about losing yourself in a dream of excellence. Ireland excelled itself. Discipline, surprisingly handy skill, the freedom (at last) to go upfront and attack France's massive moral authority on the field. Our minds over their bulk matter, our small population against their huge gene pool -- and yet, the Irish shone.
Our despair mirrors our vast ambitions for the country. Deep down, we are not a nation of losers, no matter how debt-ridden, disgraced, disillusioned. But we're realists. Sometimes the best we can try for is to hold the fort.
This was no fort-holding, traditional Trapattoni-cautiousness, but a display of grit and virility that shouted "Yes, we can!" and serenaded us with a real sense of "Yes, we will!" Of course, victory and World Cup qualification would give us a broader hope and passion we haven't felt since God knows when.
The lads knew it. It could have been enough to tip them into failure, so much was riding on them.
How many times have we nursed broken hearts when our expectations and their lack of moral stamina gave us a great start and a pathological inability to finish? Some supporters were afraid to hope. It was just too painful. But the lads showed how.
There are parables to be spun about team spirit and pulling together, but not today. There are questions to be asked about tactics and whether we should let ourselves go on the offensive, provided we hold midfield -- in football and everyday life.
There are serious issues of justice and fairness after Thierry Henry's double hand-ball taught every kid from the back streets of Montpellier to the plains of Athenry that cheating pays. It was a pornographic moment that sullies him, French management and the off-the-ball attention of the Swedish ref and linesmen who were too enthralled by Henry's status to police him the way they'd police a lesser-known Irishman.
"Why do the calls go against us?" a pundit wondered. Because we haven't made our name as we can and perhaps will when this team fights in the European Championships. The global football-boss class doesn't expect us to shine. But what discipline the team showed after literally being robbed and having to play on with every one of them feeling they'd been punched in the soul.
We do not need to say what lessons this team teach us. It goes beyond saying. It's about love and bonding and fortitude and losing your petty concerns for a bigger ideal that others share too.
And when our friends in Britain, the States, Australia, wherever, text us to wonder if the dream is real , we can say 'Yes'. Yes, we wuz robbed, yes we feel crushed but yes, they have proved we can do it.