Thursday 22 March 2018

Amber Brady - the little girl who loves her big brother - is the true voice of the nation

Robbie Brady's girlfriend Kerrie Harris (left) and brother (centre) show their emotions at full time against Italy
Robbie Brady's girlfriend Kerrie Harris (left) and brother (centre) show their emotions at full time against Italy
Robbie Brady of Republic of Ireland celebrate's after scoring his side's winning goal during the UEFA Euro 2016 Group E match. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

I had a little cry. Not when we beat the Roman Empire with that late goal from Robbie Brady. Not even when Robbie invaded the fans and his loved ones.

I held out until the following evening. Amber Brady was at school in Baldoyle. She said she loved her big brother. All of us big brothers cried. My baby sister has five of her own now.

I had better stop or I'll be off again.

This beaten-up nation needed that last-minute goal like no other. Our theory is that we turned in on ourselves during the last election campaign. It was a constant barrage of negativity. Every story was of all that went wrong and of what would go wrong in the future. Joy and fun were the casualties of the rhetoric.

The team, the fans and the joie the vivre of the team and fans showed us that indeed we are a nation once again.

And even in this time when yet another empire is breaking up, you get the feeling we can do anything now and there's no stopping us.

Shane Daly, second from left, of Ireland celebrates with his Ireland U-20 team-mates after scoring a late try against Argentina. Photo: Sportsfile

Our U-20 rugby players are in the World Cup final against England in Manchester. They are big outsiders against a big team but you'd never know in this the year of the Leicesters and the Connachts.

The seniors play South Africa to decide who wins the Test series. We recorded our first Test win against the Springboks in South Africa just a few weeks ago. It took the All Blacks 70 years to win a series in South Africa.

When I was a sapling and Ireland never won anything except Eurovision song contests and shinty matches. We did sets in school. Sums sets, not dancing sets. The bit in the middle of the three interlocking balloons was the common ground. The two rugby teams and our soccer heroes, who are all playing away from home, are in there with just one word and that word is courage.

But before we get to the game against France, let us objectively examine the truth or otherwise of the proposition that we have the best fans in the world.

I was in Bordeaux last weekend for the Belgian game. A trio of ignorant men were urinating in public outside a park where kids were playing. There were a few dozen drunks trying to prove the earth spins, but there was no violence, that I could see anyway.

The fans self-police. Which is just as well, because the French police were as scarce on the ground as snowdrops and daffodils. I was proud of our fans. They were decent and funny.

Ireland fans are shelling out huge sums for tickets for Sunday's Euroe 2016 clash against France. Photo: Mark Condren

And caring.

The tram to the game was so overcrowded as to be dangerous.

A young French girl had a panic attack but the Irish fans saved the day. She was pulled to safety and minded by two Irish supporters.

There were no tram officials on any platform. Apart from the stops at the Fanzone and the stadium, there weren't any police to be seen. Even at the stadium the security was lax.

Our ticket was scanned by an old boy who could have been sent reeling backwards by a burp. There was a body search but not all of the body was searched. And I'm sure you were wondering how the Belgian fans managed to smuggle a flare into the ground.

Be careful in Lyon. Get to the ground early and maybe even walk.

Maybe the French security services just gave up. It could be the thinking was that it would be easier to drain the mighty Garonne river with a drinking straw than to micro-police. Now we know why this could be the last Euros played in the one country. There aren't enough police.

Still though we must not give in. The French get on with their daily lives and seem to adopt an air of casual indifference but inside they worry. A mother told us she prays every day that her kids will come home safely from school.

Tears of joy for Irish fan Kenny Murdock as Robbie Brady heads home Ireland's winner against Italy. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

But back to the fans. The supporters support. Even when the team was three down the singing went on and not one Irish man or woman left the ground before the end. It was as close to unconditional love as you will get in sport. The Italians were beaten in the last ten minutes of the Belgium game. You could see the desire to make it up to us on the faces of our players. The Boys in Green were scarlet.

It wasn't that they didn't try. Tiredness breeds carelessness. It was hotter than the forecast and Belgium were faster than the time it takes for the surge from the switch to light the bulb.

By ten that night the fans were dancing on the streets. This was the tournament of the thirtysomethings. Most were working and you'd need to be. France is dear but some of the bars had a pint at a fiver.

But a good few bought their beer in the off-licence and drank out on the streets.

I slipped into a calm, suave champagne bar for a sneaky one. It was a tenner a flute. The owner brought me out a plate of penny sweets. I thought it might be a hint to grow up. But no, it seems that's what they serve up nowadays in France with bubbles. The paté ducks will be delighted.

There was this Flemish song where we all we went down on our heels and then jumped up. It was an eruption of uncontrolled communal fun. The Belgians sang 'Come on You Boys in Green' umpteen times.

I'm told the Italians too were full of our fun and not just their own. The Belgians were all in bed by midnight. The Irish were getting their fifth or sixth wind and google-mapping the fastest route to the nearest night club.

It was one of the best nights I've ever spent anywhere. I went over thinking this might be a rough-fest. Pagan it was, with too much booze, but liberating, and a great way to get over yourself.

We only hope the team can hear us cheering far away from France. The supply train of tickets couldn't keep up to the relentless march off the Green Army. Thoughts travel and the cheering from home will be stored in the aural memory.

Robbie Brady’s mother Maria celebrates with family members in Raheny. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Will the Brady Bunch be celebrating in Lyon and Baldoyle? We have a chance. Here's another untested anthropological discourse.

The French were mostly friendly and very tolerant but there are some right brats with permanent scowls who don't like to be "put out". You have these huge restaurants with more tables than Ikea and only one joint toilet for men and women.

All I can say is the French must have bladders like Zeppelins. I ask why only one toilet and the truculent waiter, who is most put-out, hisses: "It is always this way." He might has well have said, 'Tie a knot on it for all I care'.

There will be flaky players too in the French team. The French must be given no more time on the ball than a plastic player in a game of table soccer. And when the French are rattled and baffled, we must move to The Left Bank. Wes might dip his brush yet again.

So a nation waits with unabated breathlessness. Our neighbour has dyed his dog. It's St Patrick's Day in mid-summer.

Amber Brady and her family will bang the pots and pans, just as they did during the Italy game. There won't be a spud boiled in Baldoyle tomorrow.

Amber's words for her big brother were: "I love you. I'm so proud of you. Just keep it going."

Amber, my little dote, you spoke for all of us.

Irish Independent

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