Mark Dobson: I'm so thankful to those who helped me be at the Northern Ireland match
In the seventh of his exclusive weekly columns, Mark Dobson, the son of former MLA Jo-Anne, shares his experiences of the NI game in Basel and the team effort that ensured he could attend.
It was just 90 short minutes to make history on Sunday and I was ecstatic to be able to cheer on the Northern Ireland lads in Basel.
I'm writing this (exhausted and hoarse) while hooked up to dialysis back at Daisy Hill Hospital after a marathon day trip on Sunday. But more of that later as I have been spending some time this week thinking about just that… time itself.
Since August it's staggering to think that I have spent over 160 hours connected to a dialysis machine either at Daisy Hill or at Belfast's City Hospital. As the song says, time goes by so slowly!
For any renal patient it's always daunting to think about the future - and it's no different for me - when so much of our time is spent dealing with the problems of the present. Will my dialysis line stay infection-free? Will my potassium levels stay low? Am I keeping at the right weight? The list goes on.
However, the one thing renal patients all have in common is an infectious optimism.
For me that optimism for a better future centres around getting a new transplant, but as I look around the many firm friends I have made amongst my fellow dialysis patients, I realise that I am incredibly lucky to have that possibility as, sadly, many others are confined to a life on dialysis. As I think of good friends like William Johnston and Neil Robinson, who waited 17 and 21 years on dialysis before they got their transplants, that makes my 160 hours look like a drop in the ocean of time.
There is a wonderful bond and camaraderie which exists amongst renal patients across hospitals in Northern Ireland. We, and our friends, families and carers, are bound by a common thread of humanity which stretches far beyond age, gender, religion or race - we are all renal patients and we are resolute, resilient and proud.
Similarly, an unbreakable bond exists within the Green and White Army. Despite distance, a deplorable refereeing decision (let's face it, it cost us our place in the World Cup), adversity and, in my own case, being on dialysis, we will be there to cheer on the lads who always represent what is best about 'Our Wee Country'.
That bond, if it were at all possible, was strengthened by entering the play-offs and will remain unshakable as we continue to 'Dream Bigger'.
Time was important to us on Sunday in Basel as the lads played a match in which we had nothing to lose, yet the world to play for.
Competing at the top of their game, displaying their own form of Swiss watch precision, Michael O'Neill and his boys drew 0-0 against Switzerland in a game they deserved to win. But sadly that wasn't enough to make history with the final result 1-0 on aggregate, which wasn't what the Green and White Army were dreaming about.
It is safe to say that I will never look at another Toblerone the same way again.
However, this past week has been a dream come true for me as I got the chance to meet the lads privately at their hotel (thanks again to the Belfast Telegraph and IFA) and to travel to Basel, with my Granda looking after me, to be part of a real moment in history for Northern Ireland.
I am so thankful to so many people who made it possible for me to make the wonderful day trip to be with my team and this includes Kidney Care UK, my super renal team at Daisy Hill under Dr Neal Morgan, Peter McMinn and his team at Travel Solutions in Belfast, and others to whom I am eternally grateful.
I'm starting to think about Christmas already… and I don't mean what to get Mum.
At Daisy Hill we have been all chat about the arrangements for our Christmas dialysis which for me will mean coming in at 7am on Christmas Eve - so please spare a thought for us when you are queueing for your turkey.
This week has been an experience of a lifetime, a moment in history and a match to remember.