Vincent Hogan: 'The very best Irishman I knew didn't make it to the Aviva Stadium last night'
The most hopeful, committed Irish football fan I’ve known didn’t make it to the Aviva last night.
Dick O’Rafferty, shockingly, slipped into the next life at just 62, some time around seven on Monday morning, mercifully unaware of the FAI’s latest dance with absurdity. Had he been well, Dick would have been in Gibraltar with his buddies last Saturday night, shouting himself hoarse in support of players he’s followed all over Europe.
His devotion to the Republic’s team was total and uncomplicated.
Dick’s take was that they carried our hopes, dreams - even delusions, if need be - of representing a unique national spirit in the world’s most popular game. It was never his way to bad-mouth someone in green, irrespective of technical limitations.
Once they were, palpably, trying, he could always forgive a player the curse of ordinariness.
Whenever the FAI came up in discussion, Dick seemed to me to communicate a practiced resignation that they had their own way of doing business and, frankly, that way was more about institutionalized opportunism than paying sincere attention to supporters.
Football was one thing, administration of football quite another.
And the thing was he adored the game too much to allow gripes about John Delaney’s salary ever steal even the tiniest molecule of his support for a team captained by somebody as unambiguously decent as Seamus Coleman.
In many ways, Dick represented what has become the paradox of Irish football. The simple, agenda-free voice of support for OUR players, OUR team, OUR game, so relentlessly obscured by the seemingly never-ending soap-opera of Abbotstown.
What I can say with certainty is that, if he had been able, Dick would have been in Lansdowne Road last night, noisy, endlessly anxious and utterly unequivocal in his backing of Mick McCarthy and his team.
When he played five-a-side with us in the hall of Benildus College, there was always an element of the Barnsley man’s candour in Dick’s tackling. God, how he loved that hour of middle-aged dreamers running with our imaginations
And maybe it’s become too easy to forget that, at its essential core, Irish football has a heartbeat that should never be defined by another administrative Punch and Judy show. Too easy to forget that the game isn’t owned by the suits. It belongs to everyone who plays, watches or cares; to people like Dick O’Rafferty.
The very best kind of Irishman, taken far, far too soon.