Melancholic songs fitting for the end of an era
SIDELINE CUT:Within a decade, teams like Spain have clearly moved light years beyond the Irish level and the party, which started all those years ago when Gary Mackay heralded the fantasy of Euro ’88, is clearly over, writes KEITH DUGGAN
THE LAST chorus of The Fields of Athenry was still drifting over the stadium in Gdansk when Roy Keane’s comments on the whole affair began to appear on Twitter pages. As ever, the Cork man managed to split opinion and you could hear plenty of choice insults on the trams on the way home.
Keane was just being consistent with what he has always said. He has never believed Ireland should be there just to make up the numbers and it was easy to see why the melancholy ovation at the end of a 4-0 humiliation would annoy him.
On one level, there was something pitiful about the whole thing and the ghost of the competitor in Keane will rail at the idea of the Spanish applauding the innocence of the spectacle. It was definitely the most sentimental rendition of any song since the Baltimore crew sang Body of an American for McNulty in the final episode of the The Wire.
The tens of thousands of Irish fans did their best to steal the show and to make their show of undying loyalty the official stamp of the night. And they may well have succeeded.
The Spaniards were respectful, said the right things and probably found it a bit confusing. After all, the Irish players had been toyed with on the football field. Funereal silence was surely the only appropriate sound for serious football fans? The 4-0 drubbing marked Ireland’s worst night on a football field for four decades and will probably bother Giovanni Trapattoni a lot more than he will ever publicly admit.
The gulf between the rampantly optimistic fan base which follows Ireland on tournament jaunts and actual ability was cruelly exposed by Spain.
But still, what were the Irish fans supposed to do on the night? Boo a team that has ran itself ragged? Start a riot? Their gesture was fond and beery but it was genuine. And it may well serve as the curtain fall for Ireland’s wonderland relationship with international football tournaments.
Keane himself is a perfect example of the many ways in which Irish footballers emerge more through persistence than any grand plan.
Would the world have ever heard of the Mayfield man had it not been for his own ferocious determination to cut it as a football player? In retrospect, the story of how Keane wrote faithfully to England’s football clubs reads like one of those fated stories.