Alan Aherne's On The Line column
The mood of an entire nation lifted by soccer exploits
Published 24/11/2015 | 00:00
Isn't it amazing how a run of decent results has the capacity to change the entire mood of a nation?
In early September I sat in the premium level in Lansdowne Road and watched Ireland labour their way to an uninspiring 1-0 win over Georgia thanks to a 69th-minute goal from Jon Walters, the man with an ever-growing fan club.
And as I looked across at the East Stand, with vast swathes of empty seats in the upper deck in particular, it was hard to envisage a scenario whereby the venue would be hopping and the fans would be animated and excited from first whistle to last.
We all know what happened next of course. On Monday of last week I was sitting in one of those self-same East Stand upper deck seats around the halfway line, and the atmosphere was as powerful and engaging as anything I've experienced at a sporting event in a long number of years.
The turning point of course was the victory over world champions Germany which tilted our qualification hopes in a much more favourable direction last month.
On that night I was seated in the very back row of the upper deck behind the corner flag at the end where Shane Long scored his golden goal.
It may sound like a bad vantage point, but it was the exact opposite as I could see what had the potential to unfold as soon as Darren Randolph launched his clearance on my side of the field.
There was a capacity crowd there that night, and there's no doubt that many were drawn to the venue by the presence of Germany and their squad of international stars, just as much as their desire to get behind Martin O'Neill and his team.
However, that was the game when everything changed for the better. Rewind for a moment again to that Georgia clash and the atmosphere on that September night; it was non-existent, but once Long rattled the net against Germany the Aviva finally found its voice and the atmosphere was incredible.
I wondered if it would be possible to match those scenes again or if it was a once-off, but I can safely say that it was surpassed at the game against Bosnia when the entire ground was buzzing from start to finish.
That early penalty goal from Walters helped somewhat in the relaxation process, although a lot of fingernails were still bitten before Ireland's two-goal hero struck again to secure our place in France next summer.
And, in the space of 90 action-packed minutes, it seems like the entire country has been given something to look forward to and talk about because soccer is undoubtedly the universal sporting language.
Already 2016 is filled with so much promise, and of course long before the European Championship finals come around we will have seen Wexford Youths grace the Premier Division for the first time.
Congratulations to Danny Furlong who was a most deserving winner of the First Division player of the year over the weekend after netting 30 goals in a magnificent campaign.
He was joined on the team of the year by captain and netminder Graham Doyle, central defender Gary Delaney and winger Andy Mulligan. And were it not for the strong Dublin bias which is still so glaringly obvious in soccer circles, a few more deserving recipients would have been added to that list.
It will be particularly interesting to watch the Youths' games against Cork City, the nearest challengers to Dundalk over the past two years, now that Curracloe's Kevin O'Connor has been joined on Leeside by New Ross midfielder Greg Bolger who won every domestic honour possible with St. Patrick's Athletic in a very fruitful four years at Inchicore.
Greg also earned the goal of the year accolade from the 'Soccer Republic' pundits on RTE2 for an audacious strike from just inside the opposition half which caught the Derry City 'keeper off his line.
Keep an eye out for the exploits of Enniscorthy's Aaron Dobbs with Shamrock Rovers too. What did he do next after we highlighted his 15 goals in ten games with their Under-17s recently? He hit a hat-trick next time out of course!