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Forget rugby, I want to feel pride again in the Irish football team

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Jason McAteer’s glorious goal against the Netherlands in 2001 feels a long time

Jason McAteer’s glorious goal against the Netherlands in 2001 feels a long time

Jason McAteer’s glorious goal against the Netherlands in 2001 feels a long time

Is it possible to feel a little deflated after watching the rugby heroes at the weekend? Just a little?

I sat and watched what unfolded on Saturday, like everyone else, in sheer amazement.

It was an incredible day as the men's rugby team secured back-to-back Six Nations titles and then the women followed in their footsteps with a record-breaking win against Scotland to claim their very own Six Nations trophy.

But it triggered something inside me. One negative thought was followed by another! When will I see a day like this with football again?

Football is the number one sport in Ireland but at the moment, glory days like we saw at Murrayfield on Saturday seem a long, long way away.

Look at the cricket team. They have just returned from another successful World Cup campaign where they took the scalp of the mighty West Indies and Zimbabwe. The Windies are two-time World Cup winners. Can you honestly see the Ireland soccer team, at this moment in time, matching such an achievement?

Seeing any Irish team, individual athlete or indeed any Irish person doing well in their own field makes me proud to be Irish.

I want to feel that pride again in the Irish football team.

Being a football player and a huge supporter of the men's team really got me thinking over the weekend.

Has football fallen a little behind rugby in our country? How are Irish football fans feeling about the state of the international side?

Take the bandwagon argument out of the equation here. The rugby team attract regular sell-outs in the Aviva Stadium, while Sunday's clash against Poland will be the first one in quite a while for the soccer team.

We all remember the good times of Irish football, even though most of them are a long time ago! Looking back at DVDs and highlights of the past tournaments that Ireland did so well in and remembering the World Cup fever around the country would give anyone goosebumps. I yearn for those days again, particularly after the disappointment of the Euros in 2012.

Our most successful time was, of course, the Jack Charlton era and even though I was only born in 1989, I have seen enough DVDs to buy into the hype that gripped the country during that time.

From the Ray Houghton goal to defeat England in 1988 to the Packie Bonner save and David O'Leary penalty in Italia 90 and Ray again in 1994.

We have had some great tournaments for such a small nation. In the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea we did ourselves proud after finishing second in a strong qualifying group that included Portugal and the Netherlands. Remember that glorious moment when Jason McAteer scored against the Dutch at the Lansdowne Road?

We need new heroes. Robbie Keane will soon be 35 and it's time for others to now step up to the plate and write their own chapter in Ireland's football history.

With Poland coming to Dublin on Sunday, I'm confident we can get the result that's needed but it is going to take a special performance not just collectively, but individually.

Poland are top of the group on merit after some great results, including a 2-0 home win against World Champions Germany back in October. That alone should tell you the size of the challenge ahead.

EXPECTATION

When it was announced that the 2016 Euros would be expanded to 24 teams, there was nearly an expectation that we would be there regardless of the group, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

Things haven't really fired yet for Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane. Yes, there was that heroic draw with Germany in Gelsenkirchen but following the defeat in Glasgow, we face a huge task to secure an automatic place in France 2016 or even a play-off spot.

I travelled to Poland for Euro 2012 and even though we didn't do as well as hoped, the Irish fans were still the best at the tournament.

I remember reading a couple of articles afterwards by commentators questioning why Ireland fans would belt out the Fields of Athenry when we were being outplayed on the pitch.

Maybe we should sit on our hands and not support the team but for me, you support the team through good times and bad times. I was proud to be an Ireland fan and to be there and be part of that incredible show of support.

And that's where I want to be again.

Irish Independent