Tuesday 10 December 2019

Declan Lynch: If you can't stand the heat, get into the kitchen

Republic of Ireland players prior to the Group E match against Italy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland players prior to the Group E match against Italy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

For the last five minutes of the match on Wednesday, I was washing the dishes. In a montage of Irish people at that time, and how they were getting through the experience, you would have the usual images of deranged poor devils staring at big screens in bars, weeping with fear and perhaps even praying to their God, and then you'd have this unnaturally quiet scene of me washing the dishes - my daughter would be in it too, drying the dishes, and as she is not a football person, she would be oblivious to the great events that were happening in another part of the house, on the television.

But I was not oblivious, I was whatever is the opposite of oblivious, and indeed it was these great events which had driven me to the kitchen sink, seeking some sort of respite from the pain of watching Ireland trying to get through the last five minutes of a massive, massive, massive game against Italy without conceding a goal.

I can't take it any more, you see. When I am emotionally involved for club or country, I just can't endure that kind of tension, because in this sporting life I have witnessed too many terrible things.

So while that image of a person washing the dishes might seem on a superficial level to represent those few strange souls who take no interest in such entertainments, in truth it's a vision of the zealot, the person who has seen so many thousands of football matches, he is just no longer able to cope with the thoughts of all the things that can go wrong in the last few minutes of a game, all the things that he has seen on the trail of the great white buffalo.

Indeed it is only because of people like me, and our sacrifice, that others can live through these most exciting moments of their lives, whenever they can be bothered to visit our world, however briefly.

We are the ones watching Robbie Brady on a wet Monday night in Stoke - or at least watching him on the television - while others are living what they believe to be normal lives, in which there was no Robbie Brady at all until last Monday week.

When we see people on the Dart going to work in such great form on the morning after the defeat of Italy, many of them reading actual newspapers like it was 1990 again, we feel that we have done the heavy lifting, and that it was worth it in the end.

And after all that work, all that football, we have learned one thing, that this is the best time - the morning of the game, these hours in which no actual football is happening, hours of sweet anticipation which the ancients must have had a name for, The Dreaming or some such.

This is it, right now - this is the good stuff, in the way that the hour before the first race at Cheltenham is Paddy's Golden Hour, probably the most beautiful hour of that week, of the whole year, 60 minutes savouring all that is to come, unspoiled by the brutish realities which may begin to unfold even in the first furlongs of the first race, maybe at the first hurdle.

This is actually the game, this morning and the two hours of this afternoon in which so much is still possible, in which an encounter with England in the quarter-final is still imaginable, in which the endorphins of last Wednesday are not entirely gone from us, those wild visions of victory. Yes, this is the game.

The game itself is not the game; in many ways it is the end of the game, it is the start of some new struggle, maybe even some new hell. We want nothing from this game but a win, we do not care what happens out there, just as we do not care that most of the 87 minutes before Brady's goal were not good at all, and some of them were really quite poor.

Football as a thing to be enjoyed in itself is for Wednesday nights in the Champions League, which by comparison with these demented international matches is like some experimental poetry-reading event up against Liveline.

So the longer we don't know the outcome of this thing today, on balance the better our day will be. And there have been great advances in TV technology which can facilitate us in arranging our own schedule, independent of the official programme.

We can simply pause the picture at 2.0pm, with the ball about to be kicked off, and leave it frozen for as long as we like, taking care only to cut ourselves off from all communication with the outside world, holding back the reality until at last we are ready.

We can pretend that it's an 8 o'clock kick-off, we can even leave it till midnight, because as the Buddha said, it is better to travel well than to arrive.

Travel well, my friends, travel well.

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