Pride, In the Name of Duff

“So come on you full-time, small-town heroes,

Cast away your inbred fears of standing out from all the rest,

The cynics and the pessimists.”

– The Saw Doctors

It’s time to ditch the cynicism. While England debates whether John Terry is deserving of her captaincy, a much-maligned Irish football team has more important responsibilities; two games to revive a nation that has been kicked from pillar to post and that is crying out for something to restore our battered pride.

There is a myth in Irish sport. Our footballers are spoilt Premier League brats.

It’s true that that you can walk down Ranelagh and meet Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy.  But you can also meet Robbie Keane in a pub in Dublin or Shane Long at a Tipp match in Croke Park. Or the time we met Damien Duff on Grafton Street and Harrods in London where his talent took him to England as a young man.

Kevin Doyle is as normal an Irish lad as any GAA player or member of the Irish rugby squad. He met his wife at the Ploughing Championships for God’s sake. It’s not exactly Wayne Rooney is it?

The aesthetically-challenged nature of our football’s team’s arrival at this juncture has only fuelled the current national pastime of cursing everything Irish to the high heavens. We are a useless country again and our soccer team epitomises this. Our national morale is in the gutter.

Ireland may not play pretty football but we are two games away from returning the country to the world stage. The lift in the nation’s spirits can’t be calculated in the bond markets or EU finance meetings.

Irish fans have a right to be frustrated at the style of play under Trapattoni but the cynicism is quite incredible. One online contributor commented after the Armenia game that Ireland were the worst team he had ever seen. Our propensity for over-exaggeration knows no bounds.

The journos are getting their retaliation in first, however. They are not going to be left behind like Eamon Dunphy was at Italia 90. The Mouth of Montrose was castigated for saying he was ashamed of Ireland’s performances during our maiden World Cup voyage but has built a career on calling for the head of every Irish manager since.

No Irish journalist will be caught out this time which is why we’ve seen comments in print like “Why should we qualify if we are going to stink the place out?”

It’s no surprise that the headlines screamed Trapattoni would lose his job if he didn’t deliver us to the play-offs. The press have made their judgement. It’s amazing that despite Denis O’Brien shelling out to deliver a world class manager for Ireland, one journo has clamoured for the Italian with a stellar CV to be replaced by none other than Roy Keane. Is that not ludicrous?

No one more than Keano would abhor the thought of a largely unproven manager taking charge of his country.

None of this would have washed during the storm of Saipan. It is quite extraordinary that many would jettison a manager who has transformed our shambolic standing under Steve Staunton’s disastrous tenure into a side that does not lose, and settle for the Paul Jewells of this world.

Another imminent managerial recruitment fiasco would be manna from heaven for the sports hacks in this country.

Giovanni Trapattoni’s only goal has been to qualify the Republic to a major finals. He is 180 minutes away from doing so. Maybe then we will see the Italian’s real intentions if we get there.

With two games to go, we’ll take substance over style if it delivers us back to a major finals for the first time in ten years. We can leave it to others to forensically examine if we are worthy. Frankly, judging by the bitterness and cynicism displayed over the last three years, coupled with the quite bizarre names touted as a replacement, we might as well trust Trap’s judgement for the two games that remain. It has taken us this far.

Trap, you’re long enough in this country now to learn the timeless Irish proverb to ‘F*ck the begrudgers.’ Finish what you’ve started.

“The self-indulgent, almost rich,

The blatant hurlers on the ditch,

Time is passing, so come on,

And face the ball, the game is on.”

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