Such was the uplifting effect that Ireland’s mere participation in Italia ’90 had on the nation, it brought about seldom seen unbridled displays of joyful patriotism and utter madness. The story of the farmer stopping in the midst of haymaking has often been recalled here. Less so, however, the fact that in the build up to the whole thing, our school teacher at the time devoted considerable time to ‘preparing’ us for the monumental few weeks.
Remember, as primary school pupils, a large percentage of the tournament would’ve concluded before the summer holidays even began. So, every day after lunch, we were – very gladly – put through our paces in Give It A Lash Jack, Put ‘Em Under Pressure and the like. Televisions were even transplanted in classrooms on match days.
Maybe age, or a cognisance of how life has gone since, or both, has only helped to really magnify the enormity of what went on at that time and the impact it had on the entire country. Of course, it was a journey that had its first noteworthy pit stop two years earlier when Jack Charlton’s charges qualified for the European Championships.
Now, outside of the magnificent goals scored by Ronnie Whelan and Ray Houghton, my other most prominent memories of that time are musical. The legendary Joxer Goes To Stuttgart from Christy Moore and the less heralded We Are The Boys In Green belted out by big Jack and the squad themselves.
Some (unsurprising) detractors ridiculously decried the style of football employed by Charlton at the time. The same quarters would probably berate God for not putting an eighth day in the week, but I digress. Aside from the football, it’s an endorsement to the Charlton era that those songs are still remembered and adored by followers today.
You see, cringe-worthy team songs – that is to say the team themselves actually singing – usually herald something significant being afoot. And, even though Ireland have been to several major tournaments since, with the exception, possibly, of Rocky Road To Poland none of the songs struck an affinity like the ones from Charlton’s tenure.
All of which leads us to the recent meeting of Ireland and Germany. Now, while it would be rather unwise to read too much into one result which so much of the campaign still to be played out, it did, at least, promote the inclination to dream again. Whilst not for a moment suggesting that Martin and Roy should go looking for a recording studio, yet, it is a genuine belief that the draw garnered in Germany is up there with the penalty shoot out in 1990 and Houghton’s score during USA ’94 in terms of significance.
Purely when placed against the backdrop of the abysmal showing at the last major finals contested and the monotonous, stunted atmosphere that at least appeared to hold court in the previous era. Not to mention the bountiful collection of goals the Germans amassed at Ireland’s expense.
Now, as with some of what is ongoing on the rugby front, for the undoubted progress that has been made thus far under O’Neill and Keane, their shaping of things is still very much a work in progress and far from the finished article. Yet, a more satisfactory beginning to competitive fare under the current stewardship could hardly have been envisaged.
It’s worth pointing out, mind you, that the nucleus of a good team has been there for some time. They’d hardly have qualified for the last major tournament if there wasn’t. However, it is also unquestionable that the previous manager’s stubborn refusal to engage some of those currently flourishing also diminished what may have been possible.
Temptation is, maybe naturally, with what must be considered the biggest landmine on the road negotiated in what should surely be deemed a successful manner, to feel that the biggest ditch on the course has been jumped, thereby rendering navigation of the rest of the trek relatively simple.
What looks straightforward navigation can often become complex and veer noticeably off course though. So, caution should and presumably will be exercised by all concerned. Maybe we can start to dream again however. Surely that’s the least anyone can ask.