Following the flag on slow road to Gdansk


EURO 2012 ROADTRIP:THAT HANDSOME motorway from Germany to Poznan flattered to deceive about the state of Polish infrastructure. By contrast, the road to Gdansk was narrow, crowded, and fraught with peril: a bit like the path now facing Ireland in Euro 2012. Driving it yesterday, I was too busy worrying about things coming the other way to be able to relax and enjoy the scenery.

A simple two-lane carriageway – one in each direction – for the most part, the road is raised above the flat countryside of Wielkopolska and the Wisla Delta, which lies low in either side, a bit like the fields of Athenry. There’s not much margin of error for a camper van. A swerve to the right and you could be off down a gully. Hug the middle and you risk losing your wing mirror to one of the trucks whizzing by on the other side.

Not that there was that much whizzing, really. Traffic was heavy nearly all the way and progress sluggish. The road wound through towns and villages. And confirming that this was deepest Poland, we got stuck twice for short periods behind tractors, one of them pulling an old multi-wheeled hay rake of the kind you don’t see any more in Ireland.

Slow as it was, the road tempted you to put the foot down on the few wider, straighter stretches. Luckily, however, the acceleration powers of a six-berth camper van are limited.

On one stretch north of Bydgoszcz, my right foot itching on the pedal, I passed a car with an Irish flag in the back window pulled over at the side of the road. The occupants were being interviewed by police and, presumably, about to part with an on-the-spot fine for speeding. So I eased back on the throttle again and passed sedately.

There were many Tricolours travelling the route yesterday. But with the possible exception of central Gdansk, our colours are now massively outnumbered everywhere by the red and white of Poland.

Since Tuesday night’s draw with Russia, the host country’s patriotic fervour, already high beforehand, has soared.

Clearly, Irish fans are not the only ones who can celebrate a draw like it’s a victory. Even so, they may show the Poles how to do it properly tonight if Trapattoni’s men avoid defeat to Spain and keep their tournament alive.

We reached Gdansk just in time for supper last night. But slow as the drive seemed, it was a sprint compared to the slog endured by another group of Irish supporters arriving in the city today.

The Pedal-to-Poland cyclists left Dublin two weeks ago, attempting to raise €50,000 for various charities by taking the slow lane to the Euros.

Since then they have traversed Wales, England, Holland, Germany and half of Poland. They battled rain, high winds and, in one case, fluid on the knee. A few days ago they even crashed (into each other) when, during a lapse in concentration, wheels touched. One of the team is now carrying a suspected hairline fracture of the elbow as a souvenir of the incident.

But as of last night, they were massing – all nine of them – on the outskirts of Gdansk. Barring further mishaps, they will sweep into the city this morning in triumph, accompanied by a police escort. The mayor will be among those turning out to greet them.

And while Giovanni Trapattoni and his team will be otherwise occupied, maybe they will borrow some inspiration from those who cycle as they too attempt to reach their intended destination the hard way.