Monday 23 April 2018

Stephanie Roche: Houghton, Bonner, O’Leary. Forget rugby, I want to see moments like these again

Stephanie Roche

Stephanie Roche

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 following in their footsteps with a record breaking win against Scotland in Cumbernauld 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 a household name and two-time World Cup winners. Can you honestly see Ireland, 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 as I’m sure it does a lot of Irish at home and all over the world.

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 this 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 tournaments gone by that Ireland done so well in and remembering the atmosphere around the country of ‘World Cup fever’ would give anyone goosebumps. I yearn for those days again, particularly after the disappointment of the Euros in 2012.

Our most successful time was that of 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.

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell with the RBS 6 Nations trophy (Photo: INPHO/Billy Stickland)
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell with the RBS 6 Nations trophy (Photo: INPHO/Billy Stickland)

From the Ray Houghton goal to beat England in 88 to the Packie Bonner save and David O’Leary penalty in Italia 90 and Razor again in 1994.

We have had some great tournaments for such a small nation. In the World Cup 2002 in Japan and South Korea we done ourselves proud again and done well to finish second in our qualifying group with Portugal and the Netherlands in our group.

Remember that glorious moment when Jason McAteer scored against the Dutch at the old 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 currently top of the group and there on merit having had 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.

When it was announced that the Euro finals would be expanded to 24 teams for France next year, 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 just 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.

Online Editors

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