I remember Euro ‘88 well. Opening game we hammered England 1-0. My dad was there at the match. I’d love to tell you I was with him. Truth is I was sitting on a tall stool in the VFW in Boston with the rest of the diaspora. Next came the Russians and a glorious volley from Ronnie Whelan. The most lopsided 1-1 draw in the history of football. We were all over them. And then it dawned on us: we could win this thing. Next up the Dutch. Bring on Van Basten, Gullit and the rest of them. “Theft by Kieft”. The flukiest goal you’ve ever seen to rob us 1-0 with 8 minutes left. If only Paul McGrath’s header had gone in. “Ooh aah, Paul McGrath”.
So here we are again. Off to Poland. A big thank you to UEFA for sorting us out with an easy group on our return. Spain, Italy and Croatia. Thanks Platini. You obviously still bear a grudge against us for laughing at you when Liam Brady got the winner at Landsdowne Road many years ago. I don’t know much about these other teams. Who is this Xavi boy I hear people talking about? And some fellow called Iniesta? Never heard of them. I bet they’ve heard of Glen Whelan and Keith Andrews, our dynamic midfield duo.
So do we have any chance at all? Of course we do. We’re Irish and we relish the role of the underdog. And we have Trapattoni as manager. What our players lack in big club experience “Trap” makes up for singlehandedly. AC Milan, Juventus, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, and Benfica are all on his resume. So how has he managed to bring this bunch of no name players to the Euros? No-one quite knows because if you sit down on a comfy couch and watch them play you’ll probably fall asleep. In fact even if you stand up and watch you’ll still probably fall asleep. If this team played in your back yard you’d probably close the curtains. This team is not going to win many friends for their style of play. But that’s the magic of Trapattoni. He gets the team to play to their strengths and they’re good at it.
The success of this team could well depend upon not conceding the first goal in the game. This team was built to defend first and take any chances that might come their way. If they are forced to come out and carry the game they will struggle. So here’s how I think it will go.
June 10, Croatia: 1-1 Draw. While everyone is watching Spain vs Italy these two will play out a boring 1-1 draw.
June 14, Spain: Shock of the tournament 1-0 win for Ireland. Spain have 75% possession, but cannot break down Irelands back 10.
June 18, Italy: The Ireland players will be wearing black armbands in memory of the six Irish fans who were murdered in Loughinisland, County Down in 1994. Ironically the fans were watching Ireland beat Italy at Giants Stadium in 1994 when they were gunned down. Ireland will play with great passion, but will eventually succumb to a goal from a free kick and lose 1-0. Replays will later show that it was a dive.
June 19. Homecoming. The Irish players return home to a heroes welcome. We only conceded two goals in the tournament and beat the mighty Spanish, but it was not enough to advance.