Sport is a fickle business. As Frank Sinatra sang you can be knocked down in April, back on top in May. At this point in the cycle of Irish soccer, we are out of the running to qualify for next year’s World Cup but there is a greater sense of excitement and anticipation than occasions in the past when we have qualified. How fickle and strange is that?
The reality is that we are not a Germany or an Italy in international terms where winning is expected and anything less is deemed a failure. And that’s not a bad thing. Every two years, more or less, England have to recover from a national meltdown because the stretch back to the one major tournament they have won extends once again.
Our collective national football memory came 24 years after theirs and is 31 years past us now, but there is something special about continuing to travel in hope rather than expectation. When winning is routine it loses the power to excite in the same way. It may be the standard to which all professional teams should aspire to, and commentators like Roy Keane urge us as fans to demand, but sport is about escape and having occasional senses of anticipation such as is evident ahead of tonight’s match against Portugal at the Aviva Stadium is worth a lot.
Who could have imagined we would be in this place? The width of a post and the lack of a virus meant that we might have enjoyed a summer of watching Mick McCarthy’s Republic of Ireland compete in the Euro 2022 Finals in Dublin. That was not to be.
Instead, the path has led through managerial and indeed organisational change that has been seismic, and had a stop along the way that goes into the history books as a home defeat to Luxembourg. There’s that knocked down in April back on top in May refrain again.
Tonight we will have Gavin Bazuno but will be missing Andrew Omabamidele, two names that are familiar and exciting now that we had not heard 24 months past.
We will have kids staying up excited to watch Callum Robinson look to add to the five goals he has scored in our last two games. Who, outside of Stephen Kenny, maybe, really saw that one coming?
We will have a full throated, excited crowd filling every seat of the Aviva Stadium to watch, to cheer, to hope, to enjoy the visceral experience of live sport.
We will have hundreds of thousands tuning into watch on RTÉ and Sky, perhaps wishing thete were there but having the comfort of a remote control if Ronaldo does what Ronaldo might.
And even if he does we still have a team that we can like and invest hope in. We have a revenge mission to Luxembourg that could excorcise that ghost this weekend. We have the U21’s against Italy in Tallaght on Friday, two home games for our Women’s National Team before the end of the month, the Nations League draw in December and then the Euro 2024 draw next October.
The journey continues. There will be bumps and maybe the occasional veering off the road altogether along the way.
But when we are on top, even judged by our own feeling rather than the UEFA coefficient ranking, well we may as well enjoy it.
Come on you Boys in Green!
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