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This was a laughing matter

Zbigniew Boniek makes the dream draw

It was like the moment when Lisa breaks Ralph's heart in The Simpsons. Except when Zbigniew Boniek drew the Republic of Ireland ball out of the bowl immediately after Estonia, it was possible to identify and isolate the moment when John Delaney was preternaturally happy, the exact second when he felt his "dreams would come true".

As Boniek shuffled on the stage, the camera cut away to Delaney who was grinning. No doubt he would explain it as a trick of television, one of those unfortunate edits that happens on TV, usually on reality shows to confirm a view we have of a character or to allow the producers to shape public opinion.

Perhaps the Estonians were laughing too but we didn't get to see that, we only saw their delegation in the moments before Ireland was drawn, moments of high anxiety for that small nation.

If they were anxious, how did Delaney feel? He is devoted to Irish football but he is also the chief executive of an association with a mountain of debt. He wanted glory for the Irish team but the money would be nice too. Who would be able to suppress a smile if suddenly everything seemed possible? So he laughed and the opinion of him hardened, even if it was down to television.

With Delaney, there is a public view of him, a media view perhaps, and then there is a grassroots view. "Get to that f**king bar," he commands in a Tallinn bar, directing his people to the free bar. This is one of the many excellent YouTube videos devoted to his advance across Europe in the last 12 months.

"Hell of a gesture," a member of the grassroots responds before Delaney leads them all in a chorus of 'Come on You Boys in Green'. Ireland then went and got the result that justified the grin.

There was, in fact, very little that was lucky about Ireland's European Championship campaign. They nearly always got the result they deserved in every game but coming second, even with the advantage of being seeded, demanded that Ireland get some fortune and Boniek gave them that.

The draw for the finals might not have been so good but we can blame Zinedine Zidane and the French for that. So far, nobody has demanded a replay.

Dion Fanning

Sunday Indo Sport