Sunday 17 December 2017

We have to start on winning note

Weird Wide World of Sport

Dave Devereux

Irish supporters trying to keep their spirits up during the drubbing by Spain in Euro 2012
Irish supporters trying to keep their spirits up during the drubbing by Spain in Euro 2012

With the niggling pain of Ireland's performances in Poland in Euro 2012 still nibbling away at the back of my mind like a toothless piranha, the chance of redemption next summer in France can't come soon enough.

We may have found ourselves in a pretty tough group alongside Italy, Belgium and Sweden but it could have been worse, especially when you consider that not too long ago we couldn't even have dreamt of being at the party.

Months before a ball is even kicked in hope or anger, you can safely say that our opening match against Sweden is vital - get something from that game and we have a real chance of progressing, come away empty-handed and we're looking at a real struggle.

In terms of world rankings we're pretty much on a par with the Swedes and, like us, they needed a play-off victory to reach the Promised Land. Apart from Zlatan Ibrahimovic we wouldn't have a lot to fear, and the Paris Saint Germain striker has failed to score against us in three previous encounters.

World rankings would also tell you that Belgium are up there with the very best on the planet, but common sense would tell you otherwise.

Their squad may be littered with talented players but star men like Chelsea's Eden Hazard can blow hot and cold and Belgium would hardly have you quaking in your boots at the prospect of facing them.

However, in light of their tradition, there's always a fear factor when it comes to Italy but, the debacle in Poland aside, we haven't fared too badly against them in recent times.

To throw in a cliché, the Italians are always going to be hard to break down and beat, but they may lack a bit of creative guile, and most importantly someone to put the ball in the back of the net on a regular basis.

To be honest, I was just thankful we didn't get Spain because they're the one team that would definitely play rings around us.

At the last European Championships a fast-fading Fernando Torres even managed to look like the star of old as they well and truly put us to the sword.

But hey, if things don't go too well on the pitch we can always try to manfully defend our super singing supporters' crown, although if they put Julio Iglesias at the helm the Spaniards might mince us at that too.

Maybe we should just be done with the football altogether and have Johnny Logan against Swedish stars Abba in a Eurovision-style sing off, Finbar Wright trying to drown out Italy's Andrea Bocelli and Daniel O'Donnell attempting to out-smarm some Belgian crooner (sorry, my knowledge of the music scene in Belgium isn't what it should be).

The Irish fans could provide the perfect backing track for Johnny and the rest of our boys, gleefully singing 'What's Another Beer' or 'Save The Last Pint For Me', as we happily live up to the drunken Irish stereotype.

You can't beat the bit of paddywhackery, and the plastic hammer-wielding brigade play up to it like a ham actor.

Of course, it's not just reserved for the football followers; the Irish fans belting out 'The Fields of Athenry' during the Rugby World Cup semi-final, a game we weren't involved in, is another example.

We love to pat ourselves on the back for showing such pride and passion, but if the English supporters had launched into 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' with great gusto in similar circumstances we would have been the first to ridicule them and would have been indignantly outraged by their sheer arrogance - one rule for them and another for ourselves it seems.

We love to hear from all corners that we're the best fans in the world, sure aren't we great craic altogether as if it's some sort of validation, but it only rings true when we want it to.

Our supporters may create a wonderful atmosphere on the really big nights, like the recent games against Bosnia and Germany or glorious days of the past like our win against the Dutch in 2001, but they can be found wanting on less glamorous evenings.

Where were all the wonderful supporters a few months ago, when we scraped a 1-0 win against Georgia and qualification was looking about as likely as a December day without incessant wind and rain?

Sitting on their arses in the comfort of their own homes, grumbling about the inadequacies of another below-par performance, that's where.

Unlike fans of South American and African nations, who would seemingly dance their way through an inconsequential 0-0 draw, we only seem to bring a carnival-like atmosphere when the world is watching.

Fans that follow Conor McGregor in their droves are definitely well able to perpetuate the stale stereotypes. Although the Dubliner seems to have the Marmite effect, I'm probably one of the few people in the country who doesn't have a strong opinion either way about our latest world champion. Personally I'm just not into UFC and the whole pantomime that surrounds it, but each to their own.

As for Euro 2016 - that's one Irish adventure that I will be firmly behind. All together now - 'The winner takes it all…'.

Wexford People

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