New fan enjoys good first day at the office
Sunday: The young lad woke with a ticket for the Republic of Ireland versus Georgia game on his pillow.
It was his decision to keep it out of harm's reach. Any thief in the night could make off with items of lesser value in his eyes; this was better than a golden ticket to the chocolate factory.
He came down the stairs clutching it, not knowing which question to ask first. 'Will Hoolahan be playing?' he probed. 'Yes,' I assured him, and his eyes lit up. Shane Long? Yes. Captain. Robbie Keane? Yes, for a little while. With that he disappeared into the sitting room with a giant box of football cards and tried to find the eleven players that would take to the field later today. I looked at the good woman and we both smiled. It had the makings of a special day out. Your first trip to see your country playing a football match only happens once.
I had decided during the last game of Steve Staunton's reign that I would wait until my son, if I ever had one, asked me to bring him to a football game before I went to watch the team play in the flesh again.
Having been an ever present for years, I became a foolish casualty of the FAI's block booking system, once it came down to the last game of that particular qualifying campaign. With qualification hopes vanished there was nothing to play for and I was left holding three tickets that nobody wanted, but had asked for at the start of the campaign. A costly error of judgment on my part. However, I gave them to a few chaps that worked in the local butchers, and ate free steak for a week.
That was over five years ago and since then we have moved out of Dublin and further down the east coast. The only time I broke my promise to myself was for last year's mauling at the hands of European giants, Germany, a game that did little to lift Irish spirits.
The smile that broke across the young lad's face as he stood looking up at the towering exterior of a majestic Aviva Stadium basking in the Bank Holiday weekend sunshine was worth the entry fee alone.
Clutching his cousin's hand, two of the future Green Army's ranks babbled relentlessly as we made our way to our seats at the side of the pitch.
Within seconds of the game commencing the young lad took a notebook from his bag and jotted down a few words. 'Ireland chance, good save,' he scribbled, asking me how to spell Ireland, and a few of the players' names. I watched as he noted all the action of the first half and it dawned on me that he might follow his old man's career path.
'Why is that man staring at the crowd?' he asked and I looked to see a steward sitting facing the spectators rather than the game. 'Does he not want to watch the game?' It gave me a laugh.
It's interesting what a kid will pick up on – the two boys also commented on Georgia's dodgy goalkeeper, before he was red-carded for a foul on Captain Long. The mascots having a half-time dance off to Gangnam Style was another highlight.
As it turned out, he picked a good first game to go to. The team ran out 4-0 winners and as we shuffled through the crowd towards the burger van (I had promised him one the night before and there was no chance of me being allowed breaking my word) the young lad started up a conversation with an elderly man, also making his way home. His new pal tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Make sure you bring him again, he's a good luck charm.' I agreed, but knew well that he should enjoy the satisfaction of victory. There won't always be days like this.