Sometimes a team needs a leader, to take a game into their hands and turn it around. For France, Henry was that man. A disorganised and unmotivated French side were harried and fraught by an under-valued Irish team, but extra time put the win up for grabs – and it was the French who reached out for victory.
There’s been a lot said about the professionalism, or lack thereof, in Irish football. Roy Keane famously exited the national side in 2002 over the quality of preparations for the World Cup. But the FAI protested that if we fall prey to the glamorous standards of professional teams, we may well lose the charming underdog status we love so well. We don’t need that ice-bath, physiotherapy, scientific management nonsense. Car park training pitches, cheese sandwich dinners and second-class seating are just the way to keep us true to our roots.
You wouldn’t see Thierry Henry in Ryanair Economy, though. The whole French team wore their professionalism like Armani suits, not to get sullied by menial chores like man-marking, coherent passing or (pah!) teamwork. No, the French team are professionals. Each cynical foul, each expectant dive, and each gentle handball has a price-tag, a salary bump, a sponsorship deal attached.
We Love Defeats
But this may actually be the best result for us. The Irish love defeats. We particularly love famous defeats, where our valiant but under-resourced men fall prey to the cowardice and under-handedness of our enemies. Enemies who have the gall, the nerve, the sheer lack of fair play to use better weapons, better tactics, better organisation to achieve their goals. That’s not the way we do things. What we lack in resources, we make up for in grit, determination and bloody-mindedness. And if we have the resources, we feel a bit embarrassed and get rid of them quick as possible. You have to be careful with that stuff, it’s not natural.
Now, we can be content for a while, safe in the knowledge that we were screwed. We were screwed by FIFA, we were screwed by Henry, we were screwed by the ref. And in a time when our economic model has imploded, our political class has lost all credibility and our unions have the fighting character of grated cheese, it’s comforting to know that, in at least some things, it’s all somebody else’s fault.