Thursday 22 March 2018

Ninety minutes of tedium a small price to pay for one moment of exquisite pleasure

David Kelly ventures into stands and finds fans don’t require flair – as long as Ireland win

Seamus Coleman celebrates after scoring for Ireland against Georgia
Seamus Coleman celebrates after scoring for Ireland against Georgia
David Kelly

David Kelly

Desperation falls from the night sky and lands upon the denizens of the South Terrace. "Get Whelan on!" It is either a desperate, sardonic attempt at dark humour or a deft tactical analysis of the torpor unfolding before us.

Robbie Brady has caromed off a Georgian defender and collapsed upon the goalmouth in front of us; for much of the night, there has been a sense of everything around us crashing to earth.

Ireland are protecting a lead with an anxiety that is palpable throughout; if ever it can be said that a team and its supporters feed off each other, then this is it.

But it is not a nourishing sensation; if anything, it is slightly nauseous. Supporters can react with enthusiasm to their players only when they demonstrate the same; at least, that is what the players tell us.

But there has been little enthusiasm on show. Or, at least, little quality, which means there is little to be enthusiastic about.

Bar, of course, Seamus Coleman; as he weaves and winds his way here and there, nobody urges him to pass or cross; it is as if the son of Killybegs is feeding on the disenchantment within the big house and taking it upon himself to lift the burden.

And the relief is, like anyone who has experienced a goal or a try or a point from behind the sticks, joyous and exultant.

That sudden jarring lurch, as your heart leaps and body jumps in unison; all the while, in that same second, awaiting that friendly, perhaps violent assault of a slap on the back or a punch on the arm.

It is a legal high that only exists in sporting theatre and often the exchange rate is vastly askew; one moment of delirium at the expense of so many thousands of moments spent wallowing in despair and dullness.

Why do people put themselves through it all? It is for times like these; that explosion of relief which will shorten many journeys home. And it is real, vivid.

There are no clever marketing men or PR people or TV pundits amongst us.

Everybody watches sport on a screen now; it is a rare thing to be utterly unfettered and free to wallow in an event, to rely on the feelings and emotions of yourself and those surrounding you, rather than an abacus of facts and figures that, ultimately, shout loudly but say very little.

Players to whom would be directed indifference, at best, and intolerance, at worst, from my usual eyrie are granted surprising leniency amongst the paying fans. Perhaps the caution and inhibition is a virus that infects the Dublin 4 air.

Yet it is, as it should be, unconditional support except, when the football becomes unbearably awful, some occasional - and increasingly regular - pleadings for clemency.

The result, however, as Jonathan Walters will afterwards tell my colleagues, is all that matters. Another eight 1-0s of undistinguished ugliness will qualify Ireland for the World Cup.

The fanciful notion of Ireland adopting the passing game of their predecessors from 40 and 50 and 60 years ago - before failing to qualify for anything - seems oddly quaint.

A simple truth resides within these bleachers. Three points. A win. Job done.

The crowd will return home with the instant memory flash of that Coleman slalom imprinted upon their minds. They are happy, contented, warm. Sure, the night could have offered so much more, but so too could it have offered less.

A straight-line narrative but one that should never be demeaned.

Songs spurt at regular intervals, the usual suspects like Boys in Green, as well as updated revivals of Twist and Shout: "C'mon, C'mon, C'mon, C'mon Brady now, C'mon Brady, Twist and Shoot…"

An ill-suiting legacy from Euro 2016 - the Icelandic hand-clap, replete with hackneyed roar - doesn't sit easily in this company; those of us who occupy far less populated soccer terraces in Inchicore have long deployed the silent hand-clap to good effect but this does not work.

Just as Ireland's footballers can never hope to emulate Spain with either style or substance, her supporters, too, should retain faith in their own identity and resist the urge to swift imitation of foreign trends.

Ireland always play poorly against plucky underdogs yet somehow emerge with a result; privately, trepidation stirs at potentially harsher judgement down the line.

This night, though, is not about the past or future but the present. The moment. And a winning goal creates a special moment few others on this planet can match.

Others may crave entertainment; most of the crowd just want that winning feeling. To paraphrase Paul Weller, you can't always have both the beer and the kids' new gear. So never mind the Style Council. Just focus on the Jam. Three points. A few pints. Home happy. TV off.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport