Friday, August 14, 2009

Football? Bloody Hell

Were you at the match on Wednesday? The Board was, flicking his press badge round and round in a failed attempt to entertain himself while that exhibition of 'soccer' sucked the life out of 20,000 people.

Still, he managed to gather himself and produce something barely legibile on what was a painful occasion, but an occasion nonetheless:

HMMMM. Were it not for the purple sunshine and our love for the grand sporting occasion, international soccer’s Limerick debut might be remembered as an uncomfortable and fidgety affair.

But the air was warm, the pitch was pristine and the banners were witty. And according to estimates, the match is expected to have generated as much as €5 million for the local economy. Perhaps it wasn’t so bad.

Still, Munster rugby and its shining city on the Thomondgate hill have been built on a sense of excitement and rapture. Perhaps we have grown too used to the sight of Denis Leamy dislocating men’s faces under the roar of the East Stand. Very little by the way of exhilaration was seen beyond Hassett’s Cross on Wednesday evening, and the night was drained because of it. Three-nil to the Antipodeans and not a wild bushman in sight.

It was a bit of an anticlimax.

But there was still crowds and noise and colour, of course. This is the national team, after all, and had Limerick failed in its patriotic duty to support them the angry ghosts of De Valera and Archbishop Byrne themselves would have appeared, wielding copies of Bunreacht na hÉireann like batons.

Mayor of Limerick Cllr Kevin Kiely was introduced to Irish and Australian players via a red carpet beforehand, a moment he described as “overwhelming”. “It was a great moment for myself and for the office of the Mayor of Limerick. I wouldn’t take any notice of this result. Limerick was the real winner last night.”

Once the swells of fanfare had peaked and the Spanish referee had blown his whistle, the struggle began. Ireland’s performance was stoic at best. Were the Irish team a mime on a Parisian stage, Oscar Wilde would have called him a dullard.

Australia were all intent and industry, passing and moving with ease. Then, twice within six minutes before half time, Tim Cahill scythed through the Irish defence to put the tie to bed.

Giovanni Trapattoni, the Ireland manager, seemed flustered by it all. Were this 1973 and Cahill had been Luigi Riva, Trap, the catenaccio purist that he was, would have fractured his shins and the ball would have rolled pleasantly to safety.

Come the 92nd minute and David Carney’s absolutely sublime third for the visitors, few home fans were reckoning with more than thoughts of the quickest way home.

But should the quality of the fare be allowed to sink what was, after all, another exhibition of Limerick as the nation’s second sporting capital? “We’re absolutely delighted with how things went, off the pitch anyway,” said Thomond Park stadium director John Cantwell. “It’s a pity about the result but we were happy to bring another group of people to Thomond Park for the first time. It’s now really established as an international venue.”

The organisation was indeed spot-on, the pitch was like a carpet, it was only a pre-season friendly, Australia are 21 places above us in the FIFA world rankings and Cyprus were reddened 6-1 by Albania on the same night. These all grew into more than just a bag of small mercies on another historic night for Limerick city.

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