Despite economic misery of the Irish our sports will always be our pride -- the glow of optimism that comes with athlete's success


Robbie Keane shakes hands with his English opponents last week in Wembley Stadium.
Robbie Keane shakes hands with his English opponents last week in Wembley Stadium.

Let's get one thing straight before we go any further – the streets of London are not paved with gold no matter what that song might try to tell you.

They are, however, paved with optimism and prosperity and talk of economic recovery and expansion and employment, all welcome discoveries on last week’s flying visit to the home of football.

You see, there is none of the doom and gloom currently accompanying ordinary, everyday life in Dublin when you cross the Irish Sea and land in the English capital. None. And that was a brief Godsend for two days last week.

I read a report in my own newspaper the other day -- the Irish Sun if you want to know -- which said that Irish people are among the happiest in the world right now according to a new opinion poll.

Now that I find hard to believe. Between property tax and rising interest rates and bank apathy to customers, it is hard to feel any optimism about Ireland’s short-term future. 

In fact, I think we are screwed as a country for a couple of generations at least.   I really can’t see any way that my three kids, one of whom is about to begin the Leaving Cert, will get any opportunity to live the lives they deserve to live if they don’t leave Ireland for at least a while and seek employment abroad.

That’s the reality of our modern day existence in Ireland. We can’t support our national debt never mind our children, and our health service is so deplorable that you really don’t want to get me started on that one.

My one eternal hope for the happiness of the Irish nation – and that opinion poll – is the strength of our sporting dreams.

We are a nation of over-achievers when it comes to sport. We are a nation that can spot a reason to party like no other country on earth each time one of our sporting heroes gives us something to crow about.
And last week, at Wembley, we had something to crow about. Surprisingly.

The first surprise was the optimism in the air, the sight of builders at work building things and the cranes on the London skyline. We hardly have builders or cranes in Dublin these days, and optimism is only available on prescription.

London, as always, was buzzing with life and deals and expectancy. The fact that there was no real center for the Irish fans to congregate ahead of the journey out to Wembley probably downplayed the occasion for my eldest son Cillian on his first trip away with the Green Army – but we had a ball nonetheless.

We did touristy things. We saw Buckingham Palace and Westminster Cathedral and the House of Parliament and Big Ben.

We sneered at Oliver Cromwell’s statue, reeled around the fountain in Trafalgar Square and took in some street art at Covent Garden.

We drank pints and swapped stories with other fans in a couple of Irish bars in Soho, and then we made our way up the famous Wembley Way – which is actually called Olympic Way, but not by us.

All the pre-match rituals lived up to expectation as we settled into our seats, and then we were landed with the biggest surprise of all as Ireland’s performance against England at Wembley was way beyond our wildest expectation.

For the first 45 minutes, Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland were brilliant – and it’s been a long time since I even thought I would ever get to say that about a Trap team again.

Seamus Coleman was outstanding at right-back. James McCarthy looked world class in the making in the midfield – all he needs is some Roy Keane style aggression and he will be world class.

Shane Long capped a performance that deserved a goal with a goal, and England offered little more than a scrappy Frank Lampard equalizer in return.

They did up their game after the break, and only for the brilliance of Millwall’s Galway born goalkeeper David Forde, we’d have lost.

But we didn’t. We held on for a 1-1 draw, or a 1-1 victory as Cillian has continued to call it ever since, and we hit the nightlife of London in the company of some very happy Ireland fans.