So Ireland’s journey in the Euros came to an end today in the last 16 against the hosts, France. It was always going to be tough but for a little under an hour we were dreaming of what may be as Robbie Brady gave Ireland an early lead. Brady, the hero in the last round against Italy, brilliantly stroked an early penalty to the French net to give Ireland something to hang on to.
Last weekend Ireland was well beaten by Belgium but they regrouped and during the week a late Robbie Brady header gave Ireland the win they needed to progress into the last 16. After the defeat by Belgium, the victory over Italy lifted the team and country.
This morning I was up early and with a new US friend I headed around to my neighbors house, a fellow Irishman from Kildare, to settle down and watch the match. We hadn’t even got comfortable when the referee pointed to the spot and Ireland had a penalty after barely 90 seconds. Up stepped Robbie Brady, and he scored to give Ireland the lead. Que celebrations but also knowing this French side aren’t bad so it was going to be tough.
Ireland played great in the first half and could have had a second goal but it didn’t come. The half time break came, time for another mug of tea and take stock. Could we hang on, were we going to emulate Stuttgart in 1988, or would the French step up their game and hit back. Unfortunately, it was the latter as the French hit 2 second half goals to win 2-1 and our dream was over.
This Irish team was written of a year ago, but they regrouped and fought to qualify, defeating Germany in the process. During the Euros we seen the best if this team in the draw against Sweden and the win against Italy. This was tempered by the defeat to Belgium, but we have a platform now to build on. Today we were beaten, we are out of the Euros, we are proud of the team and the future for this squad of players is bright. Thank you Ireland for a wonderful 2 weeks of football.
As an added Postscript I woukd like to add that the Irish fans in France were immense, as always. Singing, supporting and partying away with no hint of trouble. They have endeared themselves to the French and the watching public. Just one thing, if just 10% of those that attended the games in France headed to a local League of Ireland match, the future of the international team would be secure. Coleman, Hoolahan, McClean, Ward and Quinn all played in the League of Ireland and it’s only with investment and fans will the next stars make the breakthrough.
Just a little post about football and how I love watching and playing. Mainly images going back to 1978, the first major World Cup I remember well. I was around for the 1974 World Cup but I only vaguely remember it as I was only 7.
So the World Cup in 1978 took place in Argentina and my abiding memory was Scotland losing to Iran then scoring a brilliant goal against Holland and being so close to getting the victory they needed to qualify for the next round but ultimately failing. Ticker tape and Mario Kempes were the backdrop to the final as hosts Argentina handed Holland their second final defeat in a row.
The next World Cup took place in Spain in 1982 and now I had a country to support as Northern Ireland qualified and would produce one of their best ever results when they defeated the hosts 1-0 with only 10 men. But they couldn’t reproduce that magic and were knocked out in the second round group stages.
Mexico 86 doesn’t register with me at all except for Maradona scoring his now infamous Hand of God goal to help defeat England, but his second goal that game was pure world class and he single handly took Argentina to a second World Cup. Up to now I didn’t really take much notice of the European Championships but all that was about to change because of a Scottish goal in Bulgaria late in 1987. The goal meant that Ireland qualified their first major championships and Germany in the summer of 1988 will live in Irish sporting history forever. When Ray Houghton scored that famous goal to beat England a nation stood up and took notice. Ireland would eventually be knocked out by a wierd bounce and Holland but the breakthrough had been made.
Ireland followed the 1988 Euros with qualification for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. And if 1988 made sporting history, the summer of 1990 made a whole country celebrate and enjoy what the soccer team were achieving in Italy. The euphoria over a battling draw with England was tempered by a lack lustre draw with Egypt and then that goal by Niall Quinn which earned us a late draw with Holland which seen us through to the second round. The drawing of lots meant we drew Romania and another defining sporting moment beckoned. Packie Bonner saved a Daniel Timofte penalty in the shoot out and up stepped Dave O Leary to send Ireland into the World Cup Quarter Finals. A meeting with the Pope in Rome followed but Ireland’s amazing journey came to an end at the hands of the hosts in Rome, going down 1-0 but with pride fully intact.
Ireland failed to qualify for the next Euros but USA 1994 beckoned and Ireland qualified and a meeting with their 1990 conquerors was to be their first match in Giants Stadium in New York. This time Ireland prevailed, beating the Italians 1-0 thanks to a Ray Houghton goal and a defensive masterclass from Paul McGrath, an ex St Patrick’s Athletic player. Unfortunately that was as good as it got for Ireland and even though they did get to the second round they couldn’t reproduce the heroics of 1990 and went out of the tournament.
1996 gave Ireland a chance to play in a major championships right next door in England but the team of 1988 and 1990 was getting old and breaking up so Ireland failed to qualify and they repeated the failure to qualify again in 1998 for the World Cup in France. The rebuilding was taking place so for the 3rd major championships in a row Ireland failed to qualify for the Euros in 2000. The World Cup in 2002 seen Ireland return to the world stage and once again gave us a moment to remember when in the final minute of the game Robbie Keane scored a fantastic equaliser against Germany to earn Ireland a hard fought but deserved draw. Ireland would eventually go out in the second round to Spain in a game they should and could have won. Of course this Spanish side was only a few years away from dominanting football.
This was to be Ireland last World Cup but that didn’t happen without controversy when in a Play Off against France a handball goal was allowed to stand and France took the final spot in the World Cup in 2010 and Ireland had to stay at home. The 2004 Euros as well as the 2008 were also failures to qualify and it wasn’t till the 2012 Euros that Ireland would get a chance to compete against the best in Europe. Unfortunately the best in Europe handed Ireland 3 defeats in a row and the team were knocked out with a whimper. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil took place without Ireland as well so the extended 2016 Euros gave Ireland a chance to qualify for the finals for the second time in a row for the first time.
A fantastic home win against Germany followed by a play off victory over Bosnia Herzigova sees Ireland make the trip to France for the finals. Drawn again Sweden, Belgium and Italy in there group it will be tough for Ireland but hopefully on Monday they can get off to a good start and progress to the knock out stages and put the ghosts of 2012 to bed. I will be watching the matches from here in the USA and will be cheering on the lads in green.
I hope you enjoyed my little walk down my footballing memory lane. There is lots more, both international and domestic as I have traveled in Europe to watch Ireland and St Patrick’s Athletic but that is for another day.
So today marked the first match of the new Airtricity League football season at home and St Patrick’s Athletic played Galway United in Richmond Park, Inchicore. The new season always starts slow, with some apprehension but mainly hope and dreams. My mission today was to figure out how to get coverage of a match taking place 5000 miles away in Dublin.
Luckily the Internet allows for certain luxuries and a few of the lads back in Dublin do match commentary live so I was able to tune in and listen. It brought back memories of listening to the radio coverage years ago when it was the only coverage on match evenings, in a time before the Internet. The lads do a great job, completely biased but calling it as it is. Being able to interact via messages as the match progressed was great, one fan in Spain, few in Ireland, lads in the ground and me here in Atlanta.
The President of Ireland is a Galway man and the presidential house is in the Phoenix Park which is fairly close to Richmond park so it was no real surprise that the President attended tonight’s match, I just can’t imagine anything like that happening here without half the city getting shut down. I used to take photos at the matches for Extratime.ie, a website devoted to Irish soccer and I followed all the other matches going on tonight on their update pages as well as watching another match taking place in Cork on the TV via a mobile app. I now have a plan for each time there is a game on at home, be it TV, Internet updates or commentary.
The result tonight wasn’t the best, St Pats got beaten 3-1 by a team they would have expected to beat. The hope of the first day of the season is evaporated already and it makes the next game even more important and getting the first points of the season on the board.
From now until the season ends it will be a Rollercoaster of emotions as St Patrick’s Athletic go in search of vital victories every week. Will there be a trophy at the end of the season? Will it end in absolute heartache? Will the European adventure add to the legends of years past, or will it too just fail before it gets going? Either way, I will be shouting for St Pats from Atlanta, wearing my hat and jersey and screaming at phone, tablet, or TV hoping to see Pats win.