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Football series in league of its own

Back in the days before my first communion, Sean Tansey the newsagent, my father and the publicans Paddy Conlon and Sean Donegan would make the trip from Gurteen to support the Irish football team. As the four musketeers tended to return late at night, it would usually be the next morning before I was presented with a match programme and ticket as souvenirs.

But one night my father was too excited to wait till morning and woke me up at all hours to deliver the news that Ireland, under the management of Johnny Giles, had defeated the USSR 3-0 in a European Championship qualifier. And nothing would do him but to, somewhat unsteadily, recreate the hat-trick scored by Don Givens, powering home a header for the first, flicking in the second at the near post and connecting with a cunningly flighted Johnny Giles free-kick for the third. Happy days.

It's hard to avoid getting all Proustian after watching Green Is The Colour, the wonderful history of Irish football currently airing on Wednesday nights at 10.25pm on RTE 2. The series is half-way through its run and unless something is drastically wrong with episodes three and four, it must rank as the finest sports series ever shown by the national broadcaster.

Made by Dublin production company Treasure Films and adeptly presented by Darragh Maloney, Green Is The Colour is informative, evocative, intelligent and infectiously enthusiastic. It began with a fascinating episode on the origins and early days of football in this country which was a tremendous popular history programme in its own right. Last week brought the story from 1930 to 1980 and that game against the USSR, a watershed moment when Ireland under the management of Giles began to establish themselves as a force in international football, featured prominently.

Looking at the shots of an absolutely jointed Dalymount Park, the feverish atmosphere still palpable, you could see why for my father's generation the Phibsboro ground would always be the spiritual home of Irish football. And listening to Givens' account of how he had to thumb back to the team hotel, and then get a flight back to London with the muck from the pitch still on his legs, gave you a sense of how unthinkably different things were back then. As did the deadpan revelation that Giles' predecessor as manager, the great and unjustly under-rated Liam Tuohy, who laid the foundations for Giles, had to quit the post because it conflicted with his jobs at HB Ireland and as manager of Shamrock Rovers.

For those who thought that Irish football began with Jack Charlton, the series is an education. And for those of us who remember the days of Giles and Eoin Hand and the great teams who were so unlucky not to make the World Cup finals, when only 16 qualified, and the European Championships, when only eight did, it is a treasure trove of precious memories.

It's not often you see a series where the right note is so consistently struck and the balance between anecdote, analysis and action is so perfectly achieved. Mind you, it's still hard to watch Giles' goal against Bulgaria in Sofia and Frank Stapleton's against France in Paris being disallowed.

Every major Irish sport deserves a television history as good as this one.

Sunday Indo Sport