Ireland March On

by Eoghan Keegan

An Irish football fan will wake up this morning, and reflect on the marvellous dream he had had overnight. A goal and a sending off for the Estonians in the first half? To then be followed by yet another sending off and an additional three goals? He will laugh at the absurdity of Stephen Hunt being brought down in the box by Rahn in the 87th minute. He will arise from his bed and make his way downstairs, throwing his Ireland jersey in the washing machine before flicking on the radio, eager for a preview of tonight’s match. Perhaps his dream was a premonition? No chance. He laughs at himself for entertaining the idea.

A voice crackles over the speaker, discussing Ireland’s prospects for the upcoming Euro 2012 campaign. Confused at the mention of the word upcoming, our unnamed fan will stroll over to the radio to make sure this isn’t a satirical piece. The programming switches to the ten o’ clock news. On comes the sports, opening with “the Republic of Ireland have booked a place in Euro 2012 with a 4-0 win over Estonia last night…” Our fan is having doubts about whether he is dreaming when the phone rings. It’s a friend. He tells our fan that he left his Ireland scarf on his living room couch the previous night. He then asks is he is up for a trip to Poland. Then it dawns on our man. He realizes that he isn’t dreaming any longer.

This is real.

As an Irishman myself, last night’s victory hasn’t actually sunk in yet. After all the painful memories, we must be wary about getting too excited, in case it all falls to pieces on us yet again. This wariness comes from, of course, our troubled history in international campaigns. The memories of Paris are still too fresh, too recent to erase, where we would have made our way to the World Cup in it wasn’t for the infamous hand ball incident. That horrible night sticks out as the worst of the lot, but it is equally as impossible to forget our previous failures, which can be summed up quite briefly; we failed to qualify for any international tournament since the 2002 World Cup. But let’s put that aside for now; today isn’t a day for reflection on the past, it’s a day to be spent hoping for the future.

The Irish performance wasn’t exactly spectacular, but when we were required to, the football we produced was nothing short of fantastic. There were instances where the Estonians looked very dangerous, and came extremely close to scoring, the most notable example of which was Vunk’s stinging shot from quite a distance in the 26th minute. Th Irish defence held firm however, and grew in confidence as the match progressed. Ireland were 1-0 up at that stage, thanks to Keith Andrews but didn’t look as if they were comfortable with the lead. However, things turned in our favour when Stepanov was shown red for a silly lunge on Robbie Keane.

If Ireland had been hoping for any kind of help, they got the best they could possibly have hoped for, which they proceeded to exploit excellently in the second half. It was only in the 66th minute that Jonathan Walters added the second after an excellent assist from Robbie Keane, and Keane himself sealed the match with another just five minutes later. The fans lived in dreamland, which was only to be further emphasised when Piiroja was handed Estonia’s second red of the evening, after picking up a second yellow. When Stephen Hunt was brought down in the box and the penalty was scored only minutes before the final whistle, the nation went wild. The reality was one which could not have been predicted in any circumstances: after a 4-0 victory, we were on our way to Euro 2012.

After nine years of uncertainty, Ireland has qualified for an international competition. Can we now progress through the Euro 2012 tournament? Truth is, if we play as well as we did during our best moments last night, progression isn’t unlikely. I’m not saying we’ll win the whole tournament, but we proved against Estonia that we have the talent to play excellent football when the situation demands it. But that’s a long way off yet; let’s just enjoy our victory for now.

After all, we deserve it.

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