IT WAS IN many ways, the unlikeliest of weeks — not least the Galway football result, and we’ll get to that in a minute — but after five days of living a kind of dream in Poland with “Off the Ball”, the depressing reality of Sunday night in Poznan was a rather humbling experience.
We’ve all had a lot of time to think about what it is to be a supporter in that time. And sometimes we ask unfair things of sports people — please take us out of recession, please give us something we can be proud of, please fix whatever it is that’s wrong with us as a country and make us happy.
The Irish team still have two more games in which they might actually be able to achieve those things, however fleetingly, but after the 3-1 defeat to Croatia, the odds are stacked… and not in our favour.
As I’m sure you’re all aware, “Off the Ball” has for the last week been broadcasting from our apartment in Sopot, the team’s base about 15 minutes from Gdansk, in the north of Poland. We spent the entire week talking ourselves up into such a lather, and luxuriating in the fact we were here, we had made it, that by the time Sunday morning came around, I had nerves in the pit of my stomach that I couldn’t just explain.
I support my GAA club, Milltown, and anything we win will be bigger than any other sporting success for me. I also of course support the Galway football team, and they are probably the team with which I have the least complicated relationship with.
Then there’s the Galway hurlers, the Irish rugby team, Leinster, Manchester United, the San Francisco 49ers, and a host of other one-night stands… but what about the Irish football team? Where do they fit in?
I think we love them and hate them because we know what success for them means for the country. We know they have this power over us, which is so far over and above any other kind of achievement on the world stage. As a show, we realise that nothing else gets close to the interest people have in the Irish football team.
And the reason for that is that a successful Irish team gives us national stories (not sport stories) like the week we’ve just experienced. When it goes wrong, as it did under Steve Staunton, there’s anger; and when it goes right, there’s an outpouring of emotion which is comically over the top, but which we are all willing participants in.
That’s a lot of pressure for a team to be under, particularly when the team is a limited group of players, probably performing at the outer reaches of their ability by even getting here. But that’s the reality. We did of course have to try and keep up to date with activities back home, and the GAA actually had a brilliant weekend for us to be looking forward to. But the reality was that for these two weeks at least, the jamboree in Poland had to take centre-stage.
We rather unwittingly proved our own point when on Wednesday we tried to do a piece on the 1990 Leinster hurling semi-final fixture between Offaly and Kilkenny that the GAA steadfastly refused to move, even though it was on at the same time as the Ireland-Egypt game in Italia ’90. However, we ran long on a Euros piece, and had to reschedule it for the following night.
As ever, our texters didn’t miss a trick. Within a minute we had a message from a listener – “Ah lads, a piece about the GAA struggling for coverage during a major football tournament gets bumped because of a piece about a major football tournament!” Touché. I should mention we did do the piece the following night, and Dáithí Regan’s admission that his own brother said there’s no way he was ever going to that game was pretty funny to be fair.
The Newstalk GAA coverage this week had two brilliant games — Clare’s dramatic win over Limerick on Saturday night, and Tyrone’s win in Armagh yesterday, with Woolly Parkinson obviously intent on adding my name to the unemployment register with a seamless display of sideline reporting from what I could hear of it.
But the result of the weekend from my point of view was of course Sligo’s amazing second half turnaround in Salthill. I saw Galway were leading 9-5 at half-time on Twitter and I have to say I thought — game over. But as the full extent of the damage became clear on Twitter, my phone started beeping. And beeping. And beeping some more.
A restaurant in Sopot (beautiful and all as this seaside resort is) was not the place to have to deal with this kind of trauma.
- This week Murph was – having a cup of tea in the kitchen with Giovanni Trapattoni, Manuela and Marco Tardelli. You’ve probably all seen the photo, but, still… that was pretty daft.