Friday 15 December 2017

Vincent Hogan: Trap's committed players can reconnect with the nation by donating their bonus to charity

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

There was a beautiful photograph of Richard Dunne in last night's match programme. Taken at the end of the final group game against Armenia, the Tallaght man is captured throwing an arm across the shoulder of a disconsolate young visiting goalkeeper whose flapping error had gifted him Ireland's decisive second goal.

It is a picture that requires no caption. Dunne's immediate decency is self-explanatory, a reminder of what it is that draws people to big stadium lights even when an economy is on life-support.

Maybe sport doesn't solve important things, but it can shine a light into better places.

How many different ways do we need to be told that the country has neither credit nor sovereignty? That our banks were really casinos and our politicians, essentially, croupiers? Every news bulletin, every talk-show, every phone-in becomes just another keening lament for what has been taken from us.


We are in the dark belly of a depression, anger flooding our days. Through sport, we snatch moments of escape, maybe fleeting glimpses of the best things that we can be. They have never felt more important.

You could spit anger on Monday night, watching the dregs of Brian Cowen's government do their Brutus trick on a disgraced former Taoiseach and find yourself wondering last night if, maybe, you'd tuned into another country. Watching that RTE programme was like rewinding some old, far-fetched sketch from 'Hall's Pictorial Weekly'.

The horror of modern Ireland is the realisation that so much of what passes (and passed) for leadership actually amounts to one great, terrifying game of bluff.

Political mediocrities haggle with certitude over stuff they, palpably, do not understand. And that sinister, inanimate authority called 'the markets' decides whether half the country can afford to use its heating this winter. It's a hopeless, deadening soundtrack.

The very blackness, maybe, for which sport was first created.

All the affection that hummed down off the stands of the new Lansdowne last night expressed nothing more profound than simple gratitude for integrity. Trapattoni's Ireland play with a determination inaccessible to many bigger, better national teams.

Today that matters. More, perhaps, than it ever did.

So last night wasn't a celebration of football. It was an outpouring of thanks that, for all the incestuous wrong-doings that have brought the country to its knees, we at least have a football team that plays as if it cares.

That might seem a paltry digression when set against an Everest of national woes. But if Euro 2012 stands down a few economists from 'Prime Time' and 'The Frontline' and 'Tonight With Vincent Browne' for a fortnight next June, is it not a gift worth taking?

Perhaps the most compelling image of the Rugby World Cup was that of a lost generation of young Irish gathering at the far end of the planet to, essentially, celebrate home. The rugby team couldn't repatriate them with their families. But it could offer a month-long placebo.

How many of those swept up in the joy of Dublin claiming Sam Maguire for the first time in 16 years found themselves, however fleetingly, lifted out of demoralising personal circumstance? If Katie Taylor wins gold in London next August or one of our golfers conquers Augusta in April, it won't be the IMF, Merkel or Sarkozy leading the 'Six One News'.

Sport houses its cheats, no question. But, mostly, it directs us to a fire escape.

This Irish team connects with its people because it has achieved something at a time when most are getting emotionally beaten up every day. And it will play Pied Piper now to great, giddy, green hordes next summer, albeit chances are the credit unions won't be quite as amenable to double-glazing loan applications as they've previously been.

Ireland will be among the best-supported countries at the Championships. Why? Because it's in our DNA. It was in Germany '88, Italy '90, the US '94, Japan and Korea in '02 and will be in Poland and the Ukraine. We embrace these jamborees like no other nationality on the planet.

Not always wisely, true. But, right now, who can knock escapism?

Here's the thing about qualification though. There's a guaranteed €8m on its way to the FAI and, as you read this, negotiations will be cranking into gear for the distribution of wealth. That translates into the players' bonuses, Trap's bonus and, for all we know, maybe even John Delaney's.

One question. Why?

Dunne made a refreshingly candid observation at Monday's press conference when he declared, "we all make enough money". He's right. Not many who get into Trap's 23 next summer will be on less than €10,000 a week from their clubs. Some will be getting many multiples of that. After pay-cuts, Trapattoni and Delaney are paid €1.7m and €400,000 per annum respectively.


So how about doing something novel? How about directing those bonuses (or part of) towards The Samaritans or St Vincent de Paul? How about using a portion to re-hire some of those staff made redundant by the association in recent months? Too populist? Too radical? Too naff?

Perhaps it's all of those. But bonuses for the elite represent a culture that, we now know, has been tugging this country into a moral black hole for decades.

True, this football team doesn't need some grand gesture to win the affection of its people. True, too, they are maybe entitled to recoil from a call for selflessness when so many politicians here seem able to call upon more pensions than ideas.

But that's actually the point.

This team has already separated itself from Official Ireland by simply being authentic. They can climb to even higher ground if they want it.

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