Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Irish team demonstrated all that is good in sport

There are positives to be taken from the galling end to the Republic's World Cup campaign, writes Darragh McManus in Dublin

Apres le match, le deluge. Forgive me for mangling that famous phrase of Louis XV but given the circumstances, it seems appropriate.

Louis once reigned from Paris and two nights ago in the same city French captain Thierry Henry's hand had free rein in the penalty area and fate rained all over the Irish soccer parade.

Then yesterday the rain turned to a deluge as the country came close to drowning in a sea of anger, bitterness and recrimination. The papers were livid, the airwaves were hopping, the internet discussion boards teetered on the brink of self-combustion.

There were Facebook hate-pages, online petitions to world governing body FIFA, abuse and vitriol and (I must admit, quite amusing) nicknames, calls for a replay and threats of further action. Had someone issued a fatwa on Henry or declared jihad against the referee, I wouldn't have been totally surprised.

This is all quite understandable: sport stirs the blood and the passions and to use the time-honoured terminology: 'We woz robbed!'.

Henry's impromptu spot of basketball which turned the match in extra-time was as blatant an act of cheating as most of us could remember.

However, Irish soccer supporters should start highlighting the positive and let go of the negative.

I don't mean that in some vague, 'let's-all-hold-hands-and-make-daisy-chains' spirit of hippie aspiration. It's good to get angry sometimes and it's good to vent your spleen within acceptable boundaries but let's all chill with the racist and personalised attacks.

Soon - maybe not now but soon - people must realise that nothing good comes from negativity.

For starters it won't make any practical difference and dwelling on injustice and bad luck could potentially hobble this Irish team's future development.

More than that, emphasising the bad necessarily blocks out the good - and there was an awful lot about Wednesday that was good. An awful lot for Irish football to build on. It's a myth that sport always brings out the best in people. It often doesn't and dredges up xenophobia, mindlessness and acrimony instead.

But sometimes it does bring out the best - or rather, the participants bring out the best in themselves.

The Irish players, management and fans were magnificent: honest, brave, resolute, committed. Everyone agrees, being honest, that we have a fairly pedestrian team in terms of ability but those lads rose above their limitations superbly.

They ignored their limitations, disregarded them, shouted "off with their heads" and gave the French the guillotine. So, for most of the game, the guys in white looked like the world-renowned collection of superstars. The unbackable French fancies looked amateurish, cowed, unsure and awkward.

All that is good in sport was demonstrated by the Irish team on Wednesday (and to be fair, most of the French players too). They showed heart, courage, skill, sportsmanship and, above all, great respect for themselves, their opponents, their country and their sport.

A thing I like about Gaelic football is the sense of decency and modesty you get from the top teams. The sense that they're doing it for themselves, their family and place, for the joy and honour of doing it. The sense that they're doing it for us.

Professional sport lost that, almost completely, a long while ago.

However this week the Ireland lads showed it's not dead yet. For the first time in ages, we got that sense of "doing it for us" from a professional soccer team. People talk a lot about sports stars being role models for kids. Thierry Henry is one, or used to be, at least.

Maybe we should readjust our perspective on this and let the kids know about it too. Sport isn't all about fame, success, money, glory, even the expression of your own brilliance - it's about bringing out and giving of the best of yourself, striving towards your full potential in the same way that Robbie Keane and his men did for 120 memorable minutes.

Bitterness and bile only make you sick. Let Irish football move forward now with optimism, determination and - yes, that word again - pride.

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