Slick Spain put Ireland to the sword but fans sing on

 

MAYBE, IN retrospect it wasn’t the wisest thing for us to be singing “olé, olé, olé, olé” beforehand to a team of Spaniards.

Like one of the participants in a bullfight, Ireland had only bravery to offer on a torrid night in Gdansk. And as in a bullfight, the result was never in question. Only the manner of its delivery entertained the neutrals, as the matadors of Madrid and Barcelona toyed with us gracefully for a while and then put us to the sword.

A 4-0 defeat to the world champions means that our last game at Euro 2012, against Italy next Monday, is now of only academic interest. And if there was an upside to the way we were eliminated, it’s that at least we didn’t have to endure false hope long.

For the second game running, Ireland lost a goal within four minutes. Moments beforehand, Simon Cox had forced a save from the Spanish keeper – a rare event on the night – inspiring an ill-judged chorus of “You’ll never beat the Irish!” The chant died at birth as yet another defensive muddle presented Fernando Torres with the first of two goals. It was a small miracle Spain didn’t score again in a half during which goalkeeper Shay Given was the busiest man on the pitch. Unfortunately, also for the second game running Ireland conceded at the start of the second half too.

From there, it was a damage limitation exercise and that didn’t go very well either.

But at least we won the singing battle – first in the streets of the old town and then in stadium, where green shirts seemed to outnumber red ones by at least two to one. Even at the end, the Irish were still in full voice. And at 4-0 down, The Fields of Athenry – a song about stoicism in the face of suffering – had a more than usual poignancy.