An Irishman's Diary
Very strange evening Wednesday, for all sorts of reasons. At first, I was planning a quiet night in until a friend texted with a last-minute offer of a ticket to the game in Lansdowne. And even then, it was only guilt that made me go.
Having ducked out of a gym session earlier, I succumbed to the nagging of my conscience, which explained that I could burn at least as many calories by freezing my butt off for two hours at a half-empty Aviva Stadium, watching Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland play out a grim nil-all draw in a meaningless friendly.
So off I went. And contrary to expectation, I found myself among a near-capacity attendance, thoroughly entertained, at an event that was nothing short of festive. The country’s entire Polish community appeared to be present. And regardless of what happened on the pitch, they were determined to have an early St Casimir’s Day party.
For those of us who were in Poznan and Gdansk last June, it was in some ways very familiar. In other respects, it turned the Euro 2012 experience on its head.
There, Irish fans had excelled themselves, performing with a competence in inverse proportion to the team and easily seeing off all opposition.
Here they were routed: outnumbered, outsung, and even outdrunk.
Meanwhile, completing the sense that we had entered a parallel universe, our actual team won.
The strangeness wasn’t confined to the match, either. No doubt it was only imagination, fuelled by recent news stories, but even the burgers around Lansdowne smelled differently. And in roundabout fashion, they set my friend and me thinking about another crisis: the one involving the banks.
Maybe we sensed the political drama about to break at Leinster House.
Maybe it was the beer talking. Either way, during the half-time interval, we fell to discussing the similarities between the food controversy and the 2008 crash.
When you thought about it, sub-prime burgers were just like those collateralised debt packages. Both were a mixture of good bits, bad bits,
and complex derivatives. All that was missing, in the case of the burgers, was Moody’s giving them a Triple-Neigh rating and encouraging everyone to tuck in.
We were prevented from further exploring this theme by the resumption of the football. At which point, optimism was still high that the food crisis could prove a good omen for Ireland’s newest striker: a tall, shiny-headed Dubliner called Sammon. On that age-old Irish question – beef or salmon? – the country is often split. But this was surely his moment, we thought.
Alas, not. On a weird night, it would have been too predictable for him to score. Instead, caught up in the general madness, Trapattoni resorted to bringing on the most skilful player we have, who conducted the remainder of the game like an orchestra, in the process scoring a classy goal. I’m sure the manager has since held a post mortem into the incident, and that such a thing will not be allowed to happen again.
But there it was.
Horse burgers aside, the occasion reminded me of another recent controversy on this island. As if to emphasise that the Aviva Stadium was Polish territory – an extension of the nearby embassy – for the night, the “away” fans sent a giant red and white flag on a tour of the ground at one point, wafted along on the hands of supporters.
Normally, such a tour would be confined to the section represented by the flag. This time, the colours floated over even the hardcore Irish support. And I briefly fretted about what might happen if some eejit put a cigarette lighter to it. But there and elsewhere, the flag sailed on serenely, without diplomatic incident. I doubt they’d try the same thing against Russia.
Home again after an odd but unexpectedly exciting occasion, I turned on the television to find an even stranger event unfolding in Leinster House. There too they had a bumper attendance, unusual for an 11pm kick-off in February. And the atmosphere, if not as festive as at Lansdowne, was certainly animated.
In another echo of events in Dublin 4, the home team was pulling on green jerseys. And, uncannily, they too had a big baldy man playing up front. But as at Lansdowne, I struggled to discern a game plan, other than to kick the ball as far as possible into the future and hope for the best. Midnight came and went in the Dáil and there was still no sign of Wes Hoolahan. So, having had enough craziness for one evening, I called it a night.