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Ireland has big hopes for the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship

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Giovanni Trapattoni oversees Ireland's training at Malahide, Dublin
The Euro excitement is definitely building. You know that much when grown men start to act like children and teenagers start to behave like toddlers.

Just last weekend a father and son of my acquaintance secured their tickets for the Euro finals in Poland when they will march with Trap’s Army on Poznan and Gdansk.

They are, to say the least, a little bit excited by the prospect. More than a little, if truth be told.

The postman had barely deposited the precious tickets from UEFA in their letter box on Friday when the dad was on the phone to me, describing it as the happiest day of his life.

Quite what his wife would have made of that comment – I have heard talk of their wedding in such glowing terms – remains to be seen.

His son, whose birth has also attracted the “best day of my life” comment by the way, was on Facebook seconds after his father had hung up the phone.

And guess what? He too was enjoying the best day of his life, so much so that he posted a photo of himself with the priceless ticket for Ireland vs Croatia on June 10. “Only 18 sleeps to go to the flight,” he took great pleasure in telling me and everyone else in his address book, I suspect.

Within an hour, the Internet world was treated to photos of said son with tickets for all three Ireland games, as well as proof he has the new Ireland jersey, shorts and socks to wear on his Polish adventures next month.

The pair are as happy as Larry, and good luck to them. Reports in the Irish Sun paper on Tuesday morning confirmed that over 20,000 Irish fans have now secured tickets for each of our three group games in the Euros.

We are, already, the best supported team in the tournament bar co-hosts Poland, and that’s before the touts get to do their business on match day.

We are also, as my father and son friends will prove, the most committed and the most expectant of all fan groups heading to Poland and the Ukraine this summer.

And that’s a danger for manager Giovanni Trapattoni as he quietly prepares his team out in Malahide ahead of Saturday’s friendly with Bosnia-Herzegovina, the final home game before the big kickoff.

When Ireland hammered Estonia in Tallinn last November to all but secure Euro qualification, there was a sense of joy and a sense of relief with a job well done.

By the time the Estonians came to Dublin for the return leg, elation had turned to celebration and the country had a reason to be truly happy for the first time since the collapse of the Celtic Tiger.

Now celebration has been replaced by expectation. People have saved and scrimped like never before to be part of that 20,000 plus strong Trap’s Army.

The recession has been relegated like Wolves, current economic reality cast to the wilderness. Ireland Inc. is about to have a party, at home and abroad.

We are going to the European Championships for the first time since 1988 and we are going to have a bloody good time, no matter how we pay for it afterwards.

Unlike many of the supporters, the players who will represent us in Poland next month have no need to worry about the cost of a flight to Poznan, Gdansk or any of the neighboring airports set to be commandeered by the Green Army.

Robbie Keane has enough money in his bank account at this stage to pay for all the supporters to travel to the Euros.

Between them, the 23 players in Trap’s squad could plug a large hole in the national deficit, but that is irrelevant right now.

All that will concern the country for the next three weeks, at the very least, are the games against Croatia, Spain and Italy. And the Irish fans are starting to believe their team can really deliver next month.

Those who got their tickets from UEFA this past week are now counting down the days, the hours and the minutes to the big kick-off and starting to talk of Ireland getting beyond the group stages.

Those who will stay behind and keep the home fires burning are getting just as excited. And just as demanding of their players, which has to be a worry for our manager.

The rest of us can enjoy it all. Ireland is about to get busy again, busy with expectation and busy with happiness.

Let’s hope the government doesn’t realize it before it’s too late. Otherwise those misers in Dail Eireann, our Parliament, might just slap a Euro 2012 tax on us all.

And you know something? I might even gladly pay it if they do!

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


Sideline Views


SOCCER: Just as Manchester City fans are coming to terms with the whirlwind nature of their Premier League title win comes Chelsea’s last gasp victory over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. The Blues weren’t the best team on the night but they still won the game. And they did beat Barcelona in the semis so good luck to them. I just hope Roman Abramovich is good enough now to reward Roberto Di Matteo with a decent contract as manager and not the one-year deal they are talking about.

SOCCER: Some juicy quotes from Aiden McGeady will hit the newsstands in Ireland Wednesday – after our deadline here at the Irish Voice – but I can give you a sneak preview of his thoughts on some recent criticism from a certain Roy Keane. “I played with Roy at Celtic and he is one of those people who has an opinion on everything,” said McGeady in response to Roy’s suggestion that James McClean should play for Ireland ahead of him. Some of the other quotes are even juicier so keep an eye out for them.

SOCCER: The England football team are to be supplied with everything from their training gear to their underpants according to a report in the London edition of The Sun. Roy fronts they are calling the briefs for the English players. No word yet on whether or not the Irish team will be issued with green boxers by the FAI. But I know someone who is looking into it!

RUGBY: Those who worry about the physicality of modern day rugby must shudder at the list of retirements in Munster alone these past few weeks. Denis Leamy is the latest high profile player forced into early retirement due to injury, joining Jerry Flannery and David Wallace on the sidelines. God knows what state their bodies will be in 10 years from now.

GAA: A lot of gloomy GAA experts down our way are predicting that Wicklow will shock Meath in their Leinster Championship clash in Carlow this Sunday. No chance. With Big Joe Sheridan back in the frame, I fully expect Meath to win comfortably. Then they can stick two fingers up to the begrudgers – in the best Meath traditions.

GAA: Louth fans should be very worried. Not alone did they beat Westmeath by the skin of their teeth in Navan on Sunday, now they must beat Dublin in Croke Park next month to maintain their interest in the Leinster Championships. Lightning, as they probably know in Drogheda and Dundalk, never strikes twice.

HURLING:
The little stories can get lost in a championship weekend on the GAA calendar, so well done to Westmeath’s hurlers for their Leinster Championship win over Antrim on Saturday night. They may not get much further than this, but already they’ve made a few headlines this summer.

SOCCER: Good job I didn’t put money on Jose Mourinho for the Liverpool job -- he’s just signed a new four year contract with Real Madrid to stay on as boss. And he’d have been great for the forgotten Reds of Merseyside.

HERO OF THE WEEK

To win four world championships in a row is an incredible feat, but to claim the fourth of them with the added pressure of Olympic qualification on the line is just phenomenal. One pundit I know reckons Katie Taylor is the best living sportsperson in Ireland – after her achievements in China last weekend, she may well be. Katie has already turned her attention to London’s Olympic Games and the gold medal she craves. We can only wish this hero well.

IDIOTS OF THE WEEK

Cheeky Hearts fans sang “there’s only one Pat Fenlon” as their team racked up a 5-1 win over Fenlon’s Hibs in Saturday’s Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park. Strange, then, that some of them complained when Dubliner Fenlon made a gesture in their direction, a gesture that has now landed him in trouble with the Scottish FA. Maybe they should charge the Hearts fans for provocation as well.

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