“All changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born.” – W.B Yeats, Easter, 1916.
Same country, different heroes. 100 years on from our most historic battle, and O’Neill’s men had written themselves into the history books. The COYBIG-natories read aloud the proclamation on the steps of the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, cast aside the Italians and established a new footballing republic.
“Having organised and trained her manhood through her revolutionary management, O’Neill and Keane, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment…”
No countermanding from O’Neill, every Irishman and Irishwoman were behind the rebels. In 1916, they had Connolly, Pearse, and McDonagh. Well in 2016, we have Coleman, Brady, and McClean and they were every bit as committed to the cause.
However, tougher battles lay ahead. Entering enemy territory and beating the Italians was one thing, but overcoming the tournament favourites and hosts, was an entirely different proposition.
Regardless, we marched side-by-side into the unknown.
The Parc Olympique Lyonnais had an eerily similar feel to that of the Colosseum in Rome. Were our gladiators, surrounded by a fervent French crowd, about to meet their maker?
O’Neill selected the same volunteers from the victory in Lille. Battle-hardened, bruised and bearing the weight of the world’s eyes, how would they begin the biggest game of their lives?
…in incredible fashion!
One minute in, Shane Long was brought to his knees in the box, allowing Robbie Brady to bring the world to their feet.
We had awoken (and wounded) the sleeping empire in one fell swoop, but how long would we hold out in this footballing GPO?
Les Bleus began to grow with every attack, but the Irish rearguard, led by General Randolph, stood firm.
Miles of column inches had been dedicated to discussing how this French side were going to valiantly lead the country back to the top of European football. However, their performance was less Bonaparte, and more ‘being torn-apart’.
They had no answer for the Irish energy and will to win. Jeff Hendrick was carded just before halftime, meaning he would miss the next game. Wounded, but he would battle on á la Roy Keane vs Juventus.
Half time, a pause in the fighting. Time for our volunteers to reload and prepare for the biggest forty-five minutes of their lives.
* * *
The second half started with both sides trading blows, France’s sharper bullets threatening to penetrate us deeper.
However, every missed shot galvanised us, every strike unified us further. France weren’t just playing the Irish football team, they were up against Brian Boru, and James Joyce, and Mary McAleese and even Mickey Joe-Harte. The entire nation stood in front of that box, hand-in-hand, deflecting everything France launched at us.
Alas, it was not enough and within a three-minute spell, Antoine Griezmann struck two killer blows.
The entire stadium were on their feet, baying for blood. Ireland were stunned.
They came to this Lyonnaise colosseum to see red and that’s what they got, Shane Duffy’s lunge making the probability of an underdog victory even less likely. The lion’s roar piercing through every green inflatable hammer, deflating the Irish chances.
Ireland fought admirably until the end, but the power of the French was too much. Bloodied, down trodden and mentally exhausted, they finally surrendered after ninety minutes.
The journey was over, but these martyrs had done their country proud.
They didn’t know it yet, but the bravery of those shown in June 2016 in France, would live on forever.
Next stop, Russia 2018.