Belfast Telegraph

A football game when we all got a great result

By Gail Walker

Ok, it's not usual for this column to deal with sport. That's Big Boys' stuff, as the hairy lads at the back of this newspaper will be quick to affirm. And, after all, I'm only a girl.

But it's nonetheless true that, just as with McIlroy and Clarke and McDowell, the spectacular events at Windsor Park during the European Championship qualifier against Faroe Islands even managed to ruffle my pink world of court shoes, eye-liner and celeb magazines - you know, the type of fixations my many correspondents in the cyberworld know well is all I'm capable of and what I would be better off sticking to.

Since I don't know about anything else.

Still, even through that fog of perfume and Touche Eclat came the exhilarating feats performed in the rain by Paddy McCourt.

Yes, as my sceptical colleagues insist, it was only the Faroe Islanders, an ill-fitting squad of part-timers and no-timers. It's not as if it was the Spanish or Italian back line he trundled through in that peculiar but effective gait, before scooping the ball over the advancing keeper delicately into the onion bag. It's not as if it was a genuine test of skill or nerve or a case of rising to the big occasion when it really mattered.

Except, being only a girl, it's not the technical details of football that interest me. It would be too much also to expect me to be interested in whether or not Paddy will "produce it" or "deliver" in the next game against Serbia. Or whether or not he will find himself on the bench rather than wreaking his puzzling havoc on the opposition from the off.

None of that could interest me. Even in what does interest me, football plays only a marginal, if an indispensible role. Typical, really.

Being only a girl, I have to content myself with the act of courage McCourt enacted during that game. And he wasn't on his own. Another player, young Niall McGinn, had his share in the drama. Both earlier this year received bullets in the post. Yet both turned up to play their football for Northern Ireland. So, hats off there, right away. I suppose, even if they'd spent the evening on the bench, it would have been 'hats off' to them just for showing up.

But this is exactly where Paddy McCourt stepped in. And where the amazing feats began.

I don't mean his two goals, as such. I don't mean his vision, his passing, his "tracking back" (as the hairy boys like to say).

It's all that non-football stuff that impresses me. You know, the not only not hiding, not stepping aside when no one would have blamed him, not letting things cool off, not being prudent and understandably wary. Not only not doing those things, but actually turning in a personal performance of such style and confidence and control and daring that the crowd - starved of such spectacle for so long - rose as one to salute the Derry man with roar after roar of acclamation.

I couldn't help feeling, looking at all the elements - religion, sectarianism, er, Neil Lennon, and all that long sorry saga of abuse and threat, the young players from Northern Ireland drifting into the ranks of the Republic - that Paddy Mc Court performed a service in Windsor Park on behalf of all of us.

In the very arena where it matters most, he dazzled and spun and entertained and laughed and everyone - everyone with an investment in what we can all do to cement goodwill and raise the roof of decency - could only cheer. Loyalist, republican, unionist, nationalist. The only reply to McCourt's achievement was and remains amazement, delight and applause.

If a Celtic player can score for Northern Ireland at Windsor Park - the first since Bertie Peacock -and be cheered off the pitch, we know we are in a new dispensation. So thanks, Paddy, for taking the risk and proving it, even if it's just a girl saying it.


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