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

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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.

England hasn’t beaten Ireland now since 1985. We hadn’t played them since 1995, and those disgraceful scenes at Lansdowne Road but all that was forgotten last week as 10,000 singing Irishmen and women rebuilt the footballing relationship between the two neighbors.

As Cillian tweeted, “Are we friends now, England?” late on Wednesday night, I remembered at last how good sport can make an Irishman feel.

And that’s reason enough to be happy with life as far as I am concerned. So thank you England. Thank you Wembley.

And thank you Trap.

(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)

SIDELINE VIEWS

GAA: The great Jason Sherlock has finally decided to hang up his boots at the age of 35, almost 18 years after he won the All-Ireland with the Dubs as a starry eyed kid. Jason went on to become a star in his own right after that meteoric rise to fame with the 1995 Sam Maguire winners, and over the course of a 15-year career with the Blues he was one of the best footballers in the country. He’s bowing out of all football on his own terms now, and he deserves that much at the very least.

GAA: Remember the date – June 1, 2013. That was the day when Hawkeye video technology came into play in the GAA, and the referee asked for a decision based on an attempt by Offaly substitute Peter Cunningham to score a point 10 minutes into the second half of his team’s Leinster SFC defeat to Offaly at Croke Park. Hawkeye decided that Cunningham’s effort was wide but at least he made the history books if not the scoreboard.

SOCCER: League of Ireland soccer lost one of the greats this week – and a great character at that – with the death of former Cork City manager Noel O’Mahony. An outstanding player with Cork Hibs, Noel won the league and the FAI Cup as City boss and always had a smile and a killer line for the Irish press corps. May he rest in peace.

GAA: A belated story from Donegal, where it has emerged that the Tyrone minor footballers recently went looking for some jerseys after their championship trip to Ballybofey. The kids wanted shirts after the senior match, but I’m not sure what their county boss Mickey Harte will make of the fact that it was Donegal jerseys they were after, not Tyrone. That has to hurt.

GAA: A reader has been on, via email, to know why I didn’t give Mayo the credit they deserved for their recent annihilation of Galway in the Connacht SFC. So well done Mayo, you absolutely destroyed the Galway team I fancied. And proved, once and for all, that I really don’t know what I am talking about. Some of the time!

SOCCER: Hull City midfielder Stephen Quinn followed his brother Alan into the Irish team when he appeared as a substitute in Sunday’s friendly win against Georgia, but hopefully the young Dubliner didn’t have to buy tickets for all his family – he is one of 15 children! Now that’s a lot of tickets.

GAA: Pity the Westmeath footballers who couldn’t even leave Croke Park quietly after their heavy Leinster SFC defeat to Dublin on Saturday night. Their ignominy was complete when the Westmeath coach driver had to ask his Dublin counterpart to move his bus so the losers could make their getaway!

SOCCER: Great to see Jose Mourinho back at Chelsea. The sooner he takes up his new post the better. The Special One was always entertaining in his last spell as Blues boss, and his return to English football can only do the Premier League a world of good.

HERO OF THE WEEK

DAVID Moyes has left Everton for Manchester United, and don’t be surprised if Ireland defender Seamus Coleman makes the same journey in the coming weeks. Coleman was outstanding from start to finish as he left Wayne Rooney and England in his shade at Wembley last week, and he is rapidly becoming one of the best full-backs in the game. Surely Old Trafford beckons for the Donegal man.

IDIOT OF THE WEEK

THE Westmeath manager Pat Flanagan is the latest man to call for a competition for weaker counties in the GAA after his side was thumped by Dublin in the Leinster Championship on Saturday night. Flanagan should know that the GAA already has a competition where teams can play against opposition at their own standard – it’s called the National League. The fact his team won promotion from Division Two earlier this year – and will face all the big guns next season – must be worrying for him, but he shouldn’t try to change the make-up of the championship. It is what it is. And should be left that way.

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