Thursday 5 December 2019

Sinead Kissane: Our optimism can make fools of us all, so this time let's rein in our expectations

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane during squad training at Versailles Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane during squad training at Versailles Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

Stop what you're doing and just savour this time before the European Championships start because this might just be the best part of the tournament for us.

Right now, no-one has messed-up the Euros for us, no-one has walked out on us, Eamon Dunphy hasn't had an on-air spat with Liam Brady or Kenny Cunningham and endless pictures of English WAGS and Cristiano Ronaldo wearing Wayfarers and clutching Hermes bags haven't begun to clog up our timelines.

Right now, anything is possible for the Republic of Ireland. Right now, we can imagine the possibility of us beating Sweden in Paris, drawing with Belgium in Bordeaux and sending Italy home in Lille.

Right now, we're allowed to imagine what it would be like if John O'Shea makes a fool of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wes Hoolahan makes a fool of the Italian defence.

Right now, we can imagine Roy Keane having a sing-song with Irish fans and not minding if players are a few minutes late to training on a pitch which has a few bumpy patches. Right now, we can imagine what Keane would be like if we make it as far as the knock-outs and if he admits that this makes up for what happened in Saipan.

Right now, we can imagine Shane Long showing the world that he can score goals for fun, with the likes of Mourinho and Guardiola fighting over him like cats in heat by the end of the summer.

We can imagine Aiden McGeady finding some form and validating Martin O'Neill's decision to bring him.

And in his final major tournament, we can even imagine Robbie Keane scoring a goal which is really only a prelude to him performing his goal-scoring celebration for one last time in an Irish jersey.

Right now, we can imagine the sun keeping us in shorts every day during the Euros and eating 99s on our way home from work after our bosses let us off early so we can go and watch Ireland play on the telly.

Right now, we've got one thing which will eventually make fools of us all: hope.

No other Irish team really fills us with that same kind of crazy hope more than the national soccer team does before the start of a tournament.

The fact that the underdog in sport is having something of a moment makes you wonder if the FAI haven't already ordered the open-top buses and booked Bruce Springsteen to come back and bang out one hell of a party on O'Connell Street.

Our hopes for Ireland going into a major tournament aren't necessarily based on logic but it comes with a license to dream.

It's not like the sort of optimism we reserved for the Irish rugby team before last year's World Cup, as that confidence was backed up by silverware. But when the rugby team didn't make it beyond the quarter-finals again, it was almost like we were annoyed for putting our trust and faith in them in the first place.

But sport demands that we put faith and trust in our team. If you don't feel like they can do something, you're not giving yourself over to the experience.

History informs us that something special can happen for Ireland at a major tournament like it did at Euro 88 and Italia 90 so we're almost conditioned to believe that a bit of magic could happen for Ireland again at these Euros.

The hangover from Euro 2012 is still hovering. Those championships were an utter let-down, while the way Irish fans like to enjoy themselves became a punchline for some.

In his role as pundit, Roy Keane said at the time in his column: "You'll never beat the Irish? It's time for that song to be put away because, at the moment, everyone is beating them. I'm sick of this 'win, lose, we're on the booze' mentality. It has to change."

But You'll never beat the Irish is a song of defiance for us. Even if the exact opposite is happening on the pitch, it is still a line of hope to belt out when there's not much else to hang onto.

This Ireland team under O'Neill and Keane has again proved that crazy can happen, like that 1-0 win over Germany last October.

It was almost like a victory borrowed from the Jack Charlton years, when we first learned that the soccer team has a way of doing the seemingly impossible and allowing us to celebrate in a way that no other Irish team does.

Whoever said sport is an imitation of life was fooling themselves. Sport makes you feel things which you don't get to feel all the time in every-day life.

Sport arouses pain and pleasure in equal parts although it's the equal parts which can be the problem. It's not often that you get to jump around, roar and scream like you would when Ireland score a goal and not have the neighbours call the guards because of noise pollution because nearly everyone else is having the same experience.

Equally, it's okay to feel glum when Ireland are knocked out of a tournament because nearly everyone else is going through the same disappointment.

Supporting Ireland during the Euros gives us a chance to feel more Irish than we might normally do. If it wasn't for sport, when would we sing Amhran na bhFiann as often as we do? These Euros are a great excuse to sit around and spend time with your family and friends and be engaged in the same experience for a few weeks.

Maybe our hopes for Ireland will start with the simpler things this time.

I hope these Euros don't leave us with a whitewash like four years ago.

I hope this Irish team becomes the sum of its parts and learns how to punish errors.

I hope this Irish team can do things like control the ball as Keane requested of them after the friendly defeat to Belarus in the build-up to the Euros.

I hope this tournament gives us a few moments when we can all just completely let go and imagine that nothing is more enjoyable than the way we're celebrating right now.

I hope, I hope.

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