|Giovanni Trapattoni and Robbie Keane meet the press in Estonia last week.|
This sounds like the scene setter for a love story, but it’s not.
Instead it is a story of hope and glory, a story at last of happiness for a nation betrayed by its leaders in its most prosperous times.
We first met on Sunday morning, early on Sunday morning as it happened. We were neighbors in the security queue at Tallinn Airport and it was impossible not to hear what my new friend Brian, I think that’s his name, was saying to his wife at home in Luxemburg.
He was hung over after three days and three nights in Estonia, the sort of thing that an infectious city like Tallinn and its wonderful Irish bar called Molly Malone’s does to you.
He was tired. We were all tired. He was living in dreamland.
“When I woke up this morning, someone told me Ireland had won 4-0 but they couldn’t be right,” he explained to his better half.
He was disorientated. “I have a ticket for the game in Dublin on Tuesday night and the flight home is booked but I don’t think I’ll go, the game is over now,” added John, maybe in an attempt to appease the suffering spouse.
Then he declared his love for her and brought his call to a halt. It was time to make my move.
“You can’t miss Tuesday,” I said.
“But the game is over, there’s no way they’ll ever score four goals past Shay Given,” replied my queue buddy.
“No,” said I. “They won’t. They won’t get near qualification because we have an Italian manager and I doubt any Italian manager has ever blown a four-goal lead in a playoff match. Sure didn’t Marco Tardelli laugh when someone asked Trap last night if he’d ever thrown away a four goal lead.”
Brian still wasn’t convinced.
“Yeah, but I’ve been away for three days now and she won’t be happy if I disappear again.”
It was time to play the trump card.
“Why are you living in Luxemburg?” I asked.
“I had to, no work at home,” said Brian.
Time to move in for the kill.
“Exactly,” says I. “You’re living away from home because our politicians blew the Celtic Tiger and killed our country. Well this is our chance to put our country back on the map.
“We’ve had nothing to shout about for years. We’ve had nothing to celebrate since that b******s Bertie sold us down the river. So get your arse onto that plane, get to the Aviva and join the party on Tuesday night.”
Game, set and match.
“You’re right, I’ll meet you for a pint at the Berkeley Court before the match,” said John. And yes, he did.
An hour before kick-off on Tuesday, an hour before Lansdowne Road became Coronation Street, I met my mate Brian from Luxemburg. We had our beer in a hotel with its own Celtic Tiger story to tell.
When the bubble was booming, soccer fans weren’t welcome in the Berkeley. They wanted the rugger buggers and had more bouncers than Copper Face Jacks whenever the soccer lot were in town.
Nowadays, like the song repeated over and over in Tallinn’s strange Depeche Mode bar, they just can’t get enough of us. They’ve even put an extra bar just inside the front door to keep us watered and a barbeque stall to keep us fed.
Brian and I had our pint in the Berkeley. Then we had our night together at the Aviva.
The boys were back in town and it felt good to be Irish, good to be alive. It’s been a long time coming but Ireland Inc is on the march again. Thank you Trap.
SOCCER: Don’t ever doubt Robbie Keane’s commitment to the Irish team. The final whistle had barely sounded on Friday night’s win in Tallinn when the LA Galaxy requested his early return to America for Sunday’s MLS decider against Houston. The Galaxy bosses, reckoning Ireland’s Euro qualification was a four-gone conclusion after the 4-0 win, thought their man would drop everything and come home early to prepare for their big game. They don’t know Robbie that well yet. He politely said no and said he was staying home for the party on Tuesday night. Wild horses couldn’t have dragged Robbie across the Atlantic. And still he has his knockers on this side of that big sea!
SOCCER: Bizarre request from an ageing Finnish woman who owned the apartment where some of my mates were staying in Tallinn for the match. She wants to get in touch with an Irishman she used to work with many years ago. He now has a coffee shop in the Dublin Mountains as well as a Siamese cat and a donkey which will help identify him. His name won’t though -- he’s called John Murphy. That narrows it down! If you know any John Murphys with a coffee shop, a Siamese cat and a donkey please let us know.
SOCCER: Met a couple of Irish fans on the way home from Tallinn who got their revenge on the Russian ticket touts, sort of. They were refused entry when it was discovered that the tickets they had paid over $200 for outside the ground were in fact schoolboy tickets. They just couldn’t get in so they thought on their feet, sold the tickets back to a different tout for $75 and watched the match in a local pub. The result, they told me, made it all worthwhile.
SOCCER: Brian O’Driscoll may miss the next six months of international rugby thanks to his shoulder injury, but there are some consolations. On Friday night he was able to put his feet up and watch Ireland beat Estonia. On Tuesday night he was at the Aviva, enjoying the occasion with the rest of us. And if you want to know what Dricco thought of it all this week, check out his Twitter account. He was very happy.
SOCCER: Proof that Ireland are back in the big time -- England wants to play us for the first time since the Lansdowne Road riots of 1995. Depending on who they get and who we get in the Euro draw in Kiev early next month, the game could happen in February, May or June. I’d prefer June. Beating England in the final warm-up game would be the perfect send off for Poland and the Ukraine. Just ask Joxer!
SOCCER: No airs and graces about the Estonians as a few hundred Irish fans witnessed early on Sunday morning as the players checked themselves in for their flight to Dublin at Tallinn Airport, carried their own bags through security and even queued for their coffees with the rest of us. Our lot may be heroes right now, but they are pampered. Last time they saw a queue at an airport it featured autograph hunters.
SOCCER: Nice touch from the former Ireland manager Mick McCarthy, who went to say hello and congratulate the current Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni when he landed in Dublin on Monday. Mick, in town to work for Sky Sports, went out of his way to drop into the team hotel and say well done to all concerned on their Euro qualification. Class act.
SOCCER: Bad news -- the inflatables are on the way back. We had everything from green bananas to green hammers in the Le Coq Arena on Friday night and more of the same at the Aviva on Tuesday. It was just like the gold old days or, as one wag put it, we were ready to party like it’s 1988 – or 1990 – or 1994 – or 2002.
SOCCER: Don’t read anything into Roy Keane’s non-appearance at the Professional Player’s Awards dinner on Saturday night. He was actually sick and not about to get a job as some have suggested. Those who know tell me he was delighted to see Ireland qualify for the Euros. I wouldn’t have suspected anything else.
HEROES OF THE WEEK
FROM manager Giovanni Trapattoni to kit-men Mick Lawlor and Dick Redmond, Ireland discovered new heroes last Friday on the very day that our new president was inaugurated. The boys in green out on the pitch, the fans on the terraces, the crowds watching back home made for a very special night in Tallinn and set up a real party at the Aviva on Tuesday night. We haven’t had much to celebrate in this country for the last five years or so, so well done one and all. At last we can be proud to be Irish again.
IDIOTS OF THE WEEK
THOSE of us who have questioned Giovanni Trapattoni’s sanity and tactics over the last three and a half years should eat some humble pie on December 2 when Ireland’s name goes into the hat for the Euro 2012 draw. It hasn’t been pretty to watch but it has been effective, and we are back in a major finals for the first time in a decade so I, for one, will happily eat my hat in Poland or the Ukraine or both next summer.