Saturday 24 March 2018

Bailout may prove costly for Irish fans

THOSE of us old enough to remember the heady days of Euro '88 will be struck by the similarities between then and now.

Ireland in the late 1980s was a grim enough place. Ravaged by recession and emigration, the country's youth would joke that the last person to leave should remember to turn off the lights.

Ireland had already completed their qualification games when Gary Mackay's late goal secured an unlikely away win for Scotland against Bulgaria and an even more unlikely place for us in the finals in Germany.

We won away to Malta to qualify for Italia '90, secured our place in USA '94 in Belfast and saw Mick McCarthy lead us to the 2002 World Cup in the second leg of a play-off against Iran in Tehran.

So Tuesday will be a unique occasion in our short history of finals qualification as Irish fans get to celebrate with the players on home soil. But while it may smack of Scrooge to mention it, can we afford to enjoy the occasion as much as we should?

Ronnie Whelan, in his RTE commentary on Friday night's first-leg in Estonia, gave a hint of what was to come with a cry to 'stock up the bars in Poland and Ukraine'. The Irish are coming and while the football may be ordinary, the party will be extraordinary.

It is anticipated that hordes of people will descend on their local Credit Unions, demanding the funds for an 11-day drinking session, with an option to extend if we get past the group stages.

So we'll be in the position of borrowing money to immediately hand it over to foreign speculators. We don't know about you, but that sounds like another bailout to us.

We will, inevitably, grow old. But will we ever grow up?

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As winter closes in, a very important question hangs in the air: will last winter's must-have accessory, the snood, make a return to Ireland? This time last year the scarf appeared on football pitches around the world with the likes of Carols Tevez, Samri Nasri and Bacary Sagna all feeling the need to wear the throat-cuddler. And the snood wasn't just reserved for millionaire footballers; some GAA players also picked up on the trend, most notably Dublin midfielder Michael Darragh Macauley.

Although the snood was banned from football a few months by the International Football Association Board, the GAA have yet to do the same. So given the amount of Dublin footballers who have taken to modelling recently, our money is on one of the boys in blue to be the first GAA player to be seen in the fashion garment this winter.

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SHAY GIVEN equalled Pat Jennings' record of 119 caps in Friday's Euro 2012 play-off first leg against Estonia, and he will become the most capped Irish goalkeeper when he lines out in the second leg of the play-off on Tuesday at the Aviva Stadium.

Jennings compiled his record with Northern Ireland in a 22-year span between April 1964 and June 1986, whereas Given has amassed his total in 15 years since March 1996.

Jennings' last appearance came on his 41st birthday. If Given enjoys the same longevity in the green jersey, he has another six years to set unbeatable records -- and disillusion another generation of wannabe Irish goalkeepers.

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With all the talk of the role of drinks sponsorship in sport -- it is worth noting that South African star batsman, Hashim Amla, is not required to wear the name of the official sponsor of South Africa on his shirt or clothing. The Proteas are sponsored by Castle breweries and Amla as a devout Muslim takes to the field with a simple white shirt containing just the emblem for South African cricket without the sponsor. Would Pioneers get such an exception in Ireland? Now there's a thought!

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OUR favourite tweet last week came from @bailemg -- 'If Ireland are drawn in the same group as Italy, Greece and Portugal, will it be called the group of debt?'

Fergus McDonnell, Marie Crowe, Seán Ryan and Pat Coffey

Sunday Indo Sport

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