This time the team is matching the Green Army at the European Championship, writes Fionn O’Dea in Paris.
The reaction of the fans at full time was telling. Four years ago, we sang like we’d won despite having been outclassed, even humiliated. We did it time and time again. This time, however, was different. There was no rousing rendition of The Fields of Athenry to see out the end of Ireland’s Euro 2016 opener against Sweden as there was at the end of each of our group games in Poland in 2012. It’s not that the fans have become any less loyal. They haven’t lost their voices and they certainly hadn’t been drinking less beer. They were simply paying attention to a match that had everything to play for right up to the end. Ireland competitive at a major championships once more? We never thought we’d see the day.
The mood in central Paris pre-match among the Irish contingent was celebratory. Crowds on open-top tour buses stood to take photos of the City of Light’s main attraction (for an afternoon at least) – 50,000 singing Irishmen and women spilling out of every Parisian pub and off licence, cheering with euphoria at the mere sight of a local man coming to his window overlooking the crowds. The Louvre and Eiffel Tower could take a backseat for the day. Not even the slightly nervy hour long trip between platforms to get on the train to Saint Denis amid thousands of other fans could dampen the spirit; commuters were treated to the full repertoire.
“This team certainly has ghosts to exorcise. Euro 2012 was the Star Wars prequels of Irish footballing folklore and Trapattoni was our Jar Jar Binks.”
The tournament was a mess that cast a shadow on the greatness that previous generations of travelling fans had been treated to. Much like events in a galaxy far, far away, it is only now are things are truly being put right. Whatever exactly happens against Belgium and Italy, this team is a world apart from that of four years ago.
We don’t want to be patted on the back for our singing anymore. We don’t want manufactured awards from UEFA telling us that we’re great. At least we don’t want those things alone. We want to compete. We want our Stuttgart. Our Giant’s Stadium. This is a team that looks desperately like they want the same. The confidence is back along with the desire to compete and ambition to succeed. Whether that will be enough to advance from a tough group remains to be seen. But whatever it is that comes next, the Boys in Green deserve their seats at the table once more.
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