In sport there is no such thing as impossible. It’s why the neutrals cheer the giant killers, get excited when the underdogs win, and exult when the mighty are humbled.
It may seem far-fetched, but the joint Irish-United Kingdom bid for the 2030 World Cup shows a commendable level of ambition and hope, at a moment when such things are a scarce commodity.
But 2030 is also the centenary of the first ever FIFA World Cup, held in Uruguay in July, 1930. Sporting organisations revel in the symmetry of such anniversaries and with its unbridled passion for soccer and a possible coalition with South American neighbour Argentina, they must be the front-runner at this early stage.
But let’s dare to believe.
Gary Lineker once said: “Football is a simple game. 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”
But imagine, maybe just for once, instead of the honours going to one of the superpowers, that it was us: That we actually got to help stage the greatest sporting show on earth.
Besides, the issue won’t be decided until the 2024 FIFA Congress, so there is plenty of time.
In the messy and often divisive post-Brexit political climate it is refreshing to see the football associations of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales joining forces to make a play for what is the world’s premier team sporting tournament.
As we look to Brussels and Cologne rather than Birmingham or Camden, it is an opportunity to forge a new affinity with our neighbours in an era of alienation.
For Ireland it shows that despite our often championed dislike of “the old enemy” we are bound together with ties of history (if not always pleasant ones) and blood.
We often forget that it was the English, Scots and Welsh who took in our huddled masses. Not only after the Famine, but an estimated 1.5 million after the new Irish state turned inwards. Which Irish family doesn’t have British relatives?
There are many young Irish people now living and working in Britain, where they neither see themselves nor are treated as ‘Oirish’. Ryanair means that in pre and post-Covid times, home and abroad are just a cheap flight away.
For England the prospect of the ‘five nations’ embarking on this project also comes at an opportune moment.
It can show that it has shed its colonial past and is no longer the dominant partner in the relationship with its (largely) English-speaking neighbours.
It is an era of ‘parity of esteem’ rather than subjugation.
It may even help elements of its own society to realise that isolation doesn’t have to come with post-Brexit triumphalism, as witnessed by the unseemly vaccine scrap with the EU.
The co-operation of the peoples of the UK and Ireland may also have an unintended benefit for those in England desperately seeking to hold the fragile union of the United Kingdom together, as Scotland veers towards independence and Northern Ireland moves inexorably towards a nationalist majority, if only in name.
While soccer is not the dominant football code in Ireland it has in the past united sporting people of all denominations in a shared enthusiasm for the national team on its World Cup and European adventures.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged that there is a “wealth of existing stadia” in the UK and Ireland with the ability to host the tournament, and in that we hope he is taking into account places like Thomond Park, Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Ravenhill.
But those are mere details – with at least 60 games in the tournament there are plenty to go around.
What Ireland could bring to the party, apart from facilities, is the goodwill that the country and its soccer fans have garnered over the last four decades.
This ability to celebrate victory but accept defeat with good humour and merriment rather than violence and tribalism is something that many soccer nations aspire to, not just in the UK, but throughout Europe.
It would also be an opportunity for us to show that the reputation we have for friendliness and hospitality is more than just the skin-deep stuff of Fáilte Ireland marketing campaigns.
Back in 1992 a proposal by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Gay Mitchell, to make a bid for the Olympic Games was initially met with derision and ridicule.
But while the cynics scoffed some very serious people became involved.
They worked hard to produce a blueprint for what is needed to host such international events.
It paved the way for much-improved sporting facilities and it gave confidence to sporting organisations too.
It also led to the hosting of the 1994 Women’s Hockey World Cup, the Special Olympic Summer Games of 2003 and the Women’s Rugby World Cup of 2017, among other international events.
Think also of the public transport and other infrastructure that could be built over the next decade to accommodate such an event? Things we need to do, but otherwise might not, would be given the priority they deserve.
Mr Johnson has floated the idea and Micheál Martin is looking forward to “extensive engagement” on the proposal.
We may not be successful, but what has been mooted is an important step for Ireland and the UK.
Even if we don’t get the World Cup in 2030, it will eventually lead to a major international sporting tournament we can all celebrate.