Tuesday 12 December 2017

Billy Keane: Courageous 2016 Boys in Green are writing new history for their time in fields of France

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, right, and assistant manager Roy Keane keep an eye on the troops Picture: Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, right, and assistant manager Roy Keane keep an eye on the troops Picture: Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

These Irishmen of the first, second and third generation are enacting a live and living history.

And we the camp followers are both witnesses and participants.

GAA and rugby were always my favourite sports but one thing I do recognise when I see it is courage. Our team are committed to the cause and they have bought in to the whole back story of Jack's Army.

The truth is our players are playing the hunger game with just a small batch of loaves and a few fishes but we might well make our own miracles.

So it is then, the Irish team of 2016 are a team worth following. For the courage alone. And the skills too. The winning of it still comes down to grit and fight.

Martin and Roy understand the Irish psyche. We are at our best, whether it be at soccer or rugby, when we let rip at the opposition.

Giovanni Trapattoni's plan was to set up camp in and around our own penalty area. It was the soccer version of rope-a-dope. Trap's team should have been grabbing trouser legs and taking the odd bite of hock. We gave the paw.

Belgium must not be given a minute's peace. The Belgians will surely be up for this one. Against the Italians, Belgium had the look of team who believed all they read in the papers.

Some of their players may be that bit more skilful but none are better in tight spaces than our Wes.

He's Wessi now, after Messi, but a few years back the people of Norwich named him the Maradona of East Anglia.

Our Wes is definitely not one of those cagey, risk- averse footballers who write return to sender on the ball before every lateral or back pass.

The boy Hoolahan must have played Ludo. He creates new space by moving forward and he's not afraid to roll the dice in search of a perfect six.

Wes though has to work as hard as any other player. This is the way we play. Press, harry, block and then when the time comes we express our artistic side. The pressing game is tiring. Jack's teams inevitably felt the pain as the tournament went on.

The forecast for today's match is for warmish weather with showers. It can get hot here in these parts. We think back to the image of Steve Staunton melting under the Florida midday sun like a Madame Tussaud's waxwork left too near the radiator.

The weather is a little bit of luck but more good fortune is needed. There will be close shaves and a man with orange beehive huts on his head will try to head the ball into our goal. Fellaini will have to be outjumped.

Our supporters will not be bested. They follow the old values of backing our own, having fun and making friends with the opposition. Be careful. A young man from the north lost his life this week. Another young Irish lad died tragically and accidentally at the last championships. It made me proud to hear our fans sing "stand up for the Ulster men".

Humanity and a heartfelt sorry for your troubles chanted by thousands transcends politics and religion. Now that I have finally almost grown up, I see the dangers. Take it handy on the drink. Mind each other.

The bag is packed. The laptop, light and slender as an ice cream wafer, is slung over the shoulder. We will bring you home the stories from Bordeaux where the wine is as plentiful as milk at home, and the squares will be full of Young Irelanders drinking dear beer.

I've never been to a big soccer tournament before. Back when Olé Olé replaced hip hip hooray, I was a young Dad with promises to keep. In Jack's time the trip was financed by telling tall tales to the banks and I ran out of stories.

You'd be worried though. Keep an eye out. There are special trouble-warning French and Irish apps.

I was in Paris for the rugby and we were told there would be a ring of steel. It was more like a ring of black pudding. Thousands of us were kept in a claustrophobic, unguarded underpass for about 15 minutes on the way out of the Stade de France.

It's unlikely there will be fan trouble. Aside from The Fenians' ill-fated invasions of Canada 150 years ago, we have never tried to take over another country, other than socially.

So we have no post -colonial enemies. And the word has gone out all over Europe that the new Irish kill you with kindness and not bombs.

I hope I'll be able for it. For some time now I've noticed that even though I drink less, the hangovers are worse. It could be my last big tournament. It might be time to take to the senior tour. The last waltz and all that.

So I booked this trip seconds after the draw was made.

The young lad was stretched out on the sofa with glandular fever. He could barely move or talk so I show him the booked flights and the hotel confirmations. Up he jumps. Woooohoo. You wouldn't get a better cure at Lourdes.

I'm going to have to teach him the 30-mile-an-hour roar. Whenever we were heading off to big matches it was our custom let a roar out of us passing the 30-mile-an-hour speed limit sign on the edge of town.

It was cry freedom, for a few days anyway. The sign reads 40 and it's kilometres now but the story of the roar remains the same. He's old enough to mind me now which is a form of role reversal. And isn't it a lovely thing to be heading off with your son?

The young lad is mad for the road and the road is mad for him. And so it is with the new team and the new fans. Olé Olé and all the rest have been handed down over the last three decades or so.

The Championships only last a few weeks, but the telling is forever. Do you remember the day in Bordeaux… We are, after all, a nation of talkers and story tellers. The tales will be told by winter firesides for many's the year. But for the stories to be included in the annals of forever, the team must perform at their personal and collective best.

The invasion of France proves we have not lost our sense of fun. There are far too many sensible people in this country, drinking wine at home, and pretending to be sober and sane.

Our Celtic wildness goes back to pagan times. The party is part of us, and it is therapeutic. The inclusiveness of the collective all singing together paints the picture of a nation that has not lost the love of country, or the party.

Yes, the 2016 boys in green are writing a chapter in the soccer story, and the social history of their own time.

Our team have bonded with their own people. This is their go at glory. And, by definition, it is ours too.

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