“It was in the year of ’16 in the lovely month of June,
and ‘Takin Over France’ by Mick Konstantin was the tune.”
This was it, Ireland had done it.
Heading into the last game of the group and our fate was in our hands. All we needed was a win against Italy. That was it, just a solitary win and we were in the knockout stages. Stuttgart ’88, Italia ’90, Ibaraki ’02. Dare we dream of Lille ’16?
Martin O’Neill was as ruthless as a certain Manchester United midfield general of old. Whelan, Clark, even O’Shea. The trashing in Bordeaux was enough, the honourable Judge O’Neill pounded his gavel and sentenced them to a night on the bench.
The roof was closed, but the lungs were fully open. One could feel the rafters trembling.
Do or die. Leave it all on the pitch. Our date with destiny.
The game had a nostalgic feel to it. Seamus Coleman taking less than a minute to create his own Roy Keane-Marc Overmars moment. Crash, bang, wallop. This was war.
Daryl Murphy’s Irish career must feel like the cruellest version of Groundhog Day known to a striker; start up front for Ireland, fail to score. Start up front for Ireland, fail to score. Would today, during one of the wettest years on record in France, be the day he ends that drought?
The referee’s impact on the game was similar to that of a bad WiFi connection; stuttering and stopping, and really beginning to frustrate. “Let the game flow!” shouted this
fan journalist loudly..in his head.
Jeff Hendrick almost sent the Irish crowd into delirium with a fantastic left-footed strike after a Murphy knock-down. The Ipswich man was the focal point of every attack, maybe strikers don’t need goals after all..
Murphy was like a man possessed. He was a sprinkle of Kevin Doyle, a touch of Niall Quinn, and a full measure of himself; hardworking and industrious. The former Waterford man came oh-so-close to opening his Irish account with a fantastic header from a corner, but the Italian stopper, Sal Sirigu, tipped it over the bar.
Optimism was building.
The Italians, who many had told us to fear, were about as active as the city of Pompeii. Alas, it was still nil-nil and there was a feeling Vesuvius could erupt at any stage.
And it nearly did in some fashion. Five minutes before halftime, Ciro
who was far from Immobile almost stunned the Republic, but skewed his shot wide.
It appeared the Irish fans had done their homework on the referee just seconds later when he denied McClean of a certain penalty. Thousands of them rose to their feet in unison, alluding to his apparent financial background with renditions of “the referee’s a banker” filling the stadium.
Well, at least I think that’s what they said.
Halftime came and went and the Republic of Brazil were still valiantly chasing the elusive opening goal. Zaza nearly pulled a Gazza, with a fantastic volleyed effort but it went over the Irish bar…just.
Vesuvius was beginning to bubble.
But so too was Ben Bulben, and Carrauntoohil and every other mountain framed in an Irish jersey on that pitch.
Forget the Tiber, this Irish team were playing with the fluidity of the River Lee, the Shannon and the Liffey all mixed into one. Gushing forward, meandering down the wing, and eroding the Italian defence. The Rivers of Ireland were flowing towards the knockout stages.
“The goal will come” we were told.
With five minutes to go, it finally did and I burst into tears. Thank you Robbie Brady, I
fuckin’ love you.