Who put the ball in the Italian net? Robbie did
I’d love to say that I have vivid memories of the day Ray Houghton put the ball in the English net, and I’d love to say that I can recall the time Packie Bonner’s paw put the brakes on Timofte’s penalty.
Ronnie Whelan’s kung-fu goal shot against Russia can’t be classed as a memory for me and Mick McCarthy was a manager first and a player second, according to the archives in my mind.
I’ll happily wax lyrical about those moments and tell you that they were pivotal moments in Irish sport, but it’s all based on secondary information and re-runs of the clips on YouTube. There’s a good deal of fraudulence involved as I didn’t exist for either occasion and therefore have no tangible memories as a reference.
I’m not from that time.
I’m from Generation Saipan. I’m from the Ian-Harte-missed-the-first-penalty-but-it’s-ok-because-Robbie-Keane-scored-the-second era. And Robbie Brady’s 84th minute header last night is my Euro ‘88. It eclipses everything from the Jack Charlton era because I have no connection with that time.
There is one thing that we seem to have inherited from our predecessors however, and it has somehow evolved into a perpetual theme of Irish football.
There’s rarely a lot of wriggle room when it comes to Ireland seeking qualification for the major tournaments. Route one has never been our bag, while play-off places and a firm reliance on other fixtures, have become our closest allies in squeezing through. We always seem to be the plus one invitee who can come to the party but won’t be getting access to the caviar dish.
For the 2002 World Cup, a Jason McAteer goal secured our spot in the tournament on the back of draws against Portugal and the Netherlands. The euphoria of the moment belied the fact that our path to Japan and Korea, featured a few potholes along the way. The Dutch had multiple chances to equalise that day but we had divine intervention on our side. And in retrospect, we don’t care about the process so long as we’re there.
Kevin Moran spoke on Off The Ball on the Vicar Street roadshow a few weeks back and he told Ger Gilroy; 'one thing we know how to do better than anybody, is enjoy ourselves. And we don’t have to win in order to do it, we just have to be there. And we’ve always made sure we are there.'
While it wasn’t by design, that same philosophy of just about getting through was what defined our qualification for this Euro 2016 tournament as well. A play-off fixture against Bosnia turned out to be the price of our entry fee to France, and we happily paid it.
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
When the next crop of Irish supporters come of age and they start to identify Roy Keane as a manager first and a player second, I hope we can tell them the story of last night, the way it should be told.
I hope we’ll put emphasis on the leadership demonstrated by Seamus Coleman. I hope we’ll say that the intent in his tackle in the opening seconds of the game permeated a sense of purpose through the rest of the team.
I hope we’ll overlook the quality of the Italian team and recall it as the night that Jeff Hendrick and James McClean announced themselves as the future protectors of Irish football. And when we comment on the input of Robbie Brady, I hope we’ll talk about how he instantly located his family in the crowd to celebrate the victory with them.
But in truth, I don't think it will really matter to them, because they'll have different memories to relate to by then.