Ireland take on France this afternoon for the first time since Thierry Henry broke the hearts of a nation by nefarious means, in a World Cup qualifying playoff in November 2009.
The fallout from that led to the sort of collective sporting outrage that we as a nation were not used, though at that very minute we gained a sense of how England must have felt in 1986.
Of course the word that many are thinking (but few are saying) this morning is “revenge,” the idea that a European Championship knockout tie is somehow just a means to seek vengeance over something that happened seven years ago.
The Irish players and management have been downplaying that incident in the context of this tie – as have their French counterparts – and that’s the way it should be. This is Ireland vs. France in 2016 – nothing else should come into it.
Of the group that played that night, Shay Given, John O’Shea, Glenn Whelan and Aiden McGeady are still in the squad (though only O’Shea is likely to start today). They will have seen enough throughout their careers to know that revenge is not a good motivator.
Using raw emotion in such a way allows for errors in judgement, and above all else this team has to maintain full concentration at all times.
Likewise, Roy Keane was one of the more vocal subscribers to the theory that Ireland had to “get over it” after the incident. He will probably not have mentioned it once this week, nor will Martin O’Neill have. To them, this is the chance to make more history with this band of underdogs, not to get bogged down in events of the past.
O’Neill and his men have been more preoccupied with creating history than dwelling on it, and that won’t change today just because they have previous with the opposition. The likes of Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick and Wes Hoolahan are going to be remembered with the same fondness as previous tournament heroes like Ronnie Whelan and Ray Houghton in the years to come. “What Thierry did” would just upset the narrative now.
Ireland have been going about their business effectively, and in doing so have reversed the damaged caused by the disastrous campaign of 2012. In fact, some would argue that the Italy win has brought the optimism surrounding this squad to World Cup 1990 levels.
Make no mistake though, Ireland do want revenge. Not for the Henry business, but there is a sense of showing those who regularly put this team down. They were given no chance of taking four points from Germany in qualifying – which was probably fair enough – and yet the fighting spirit of this set of players dragged them through, just as it did against Italy in Lille on Wednesday night, just as it did with the unfancied Ireland teams of the past.
In many respects, this Irish team want revenge against themselves – for what Euro 2012 did them as players, and did to Ireland as a footballing nation. The retribution for Poznan and Gdansk was dealt out by a Robbie Brady header, and now that the ghost of tournaments past has finally been put behind them they can go back to what they have become synonymous with through the years – taking down the big boys.
Because of the ridiculous ticket distribution system, Ireland are only likely to have at most 5,000 fans in a 59,000 seater stadium.
Despite that, there is no question as to which set of supporters will be singing the loudest. The Irish fans have earned any number of plaudits for their friendliness in France, but by the end of play today, they want to have unceremoniously dumped their hosts out of their own competition.
O’Neill’s biggest dilemma today was his team selection. He gambled on Wednesday by leaving Wes Hoolahan and John O’Shea out of the side, but giving the side a more youthful look paid dividends.
He has gone for an unchanged lineup today, and that will certainly please a large amount of Irish fans who have a renewed sense of faith in their manager and his methods.
That being said, this team will be expected to go out and give the same level of intensity and passion that was on display on Wednesday.
No French retribution, only victory. Showing France, showing Europe, what the Boys in Green are capable of is all that matters now.
Besides, France went to that World Cup in 2010 and proceeded to publicly humiliate themselves and their entire country, so swings and roundabouts.
Read More About: didier deschamps, Euro 2016, France, giovanni trapattoni, glenn whelan, Ireland, john o'shea, Jon Walters, Martin O'Neill, robbie brady, robbie keane, roy keane, shane duffy, Thierry Henry