Saturday, 13 October 2012

Six of the worst……

Well, where do you start after that debacle? 33 years since I attended my first game and I’ve never walked out of Lansdowne, Dalymount, Tolka, the RDS or any away stadium as chastened and humiliated by a performance as that. Despite the injuries, retirements and gulf in class there is no excuse for the lack of fight shown by the bulk of the team last night.

I never expected anything other than a defeat last night but after leaving work early and meeting the usual home game crew and a few of the lads we go on the way trips with for some pre game refreshment that heady mix of Guinness and optimism took hold. By the time we got into the ground just in time for the anthems and a moving minutes applause for James Nolan, the lad who tragically lost his life in Poland, the talk was of possibly being able to hold on for a draw and of the fact that most of the critics had got the changes they were shouting for albeit off the back of a huge injury list coupled with the post Euro retirements. The team wasn’t that different than I’d have chosen with Wilson for Ward and Long for Cox with Walters moving out wide the only changes I’d have made. There was an argument for Clark instead of O’Dea at the back but it was never likely given that he’s only just been reintegrated into the squad and to be fair to O’Dea, he’d never left Ireland down before last nights game. Although I’d have started with Long the clamour for his inclusion by elements of the media was over the top for me, he has two league goals so far this season compared to Walters one and has been subbed or started on the bench in a number of games, this isn’t a player who’s been banging goals in week in week out. As it was, Walters was one of the only players to emerge with any credit last night and Long obviously let his frustration get the better of him and picked up a needless booking that may cost him game time later in the campaign.

Once the game kicked off I thought we started reasonably well for the first 20 minutes or so and even created a half chance that Andrews snatched at with his right foot when he should have hit it with his left. But the longer the game went on the more Germany started dominating possession and the denial of an absolute stonewall penalty when O’Shea was caught dawdling in the box and hauled down Reus seemed to spark them into upping the tempo further. Funny enough, when they didn’t get that decision I actually thought that maybe this might be one of those days when we get the rub of the green. After all, in one of our most famous victories against Holland in 2001 they absolutely battered us for the first half before we managed to get a foothold in the game. Could it happen again? Obviously not.

I don’t know if the sense of injustice that Reus felt for getting booked for diving when a red for O’Shea and a pen would have been a fairer outcome made him raise his game but he was unplayable the rest of the half and the relief we felt in getting that decision soon evaporated when McGeady lost him and he was quickest to react to a ricochet off Coleman’s knee before cracking the ball in off the crossbar. One down and my hope that we could make it to half time at only one down was forlorn as within seven minutes the same player slotted home his second. Game over.

The second half was like a ritual slaughter and a lesson is possession football. We just couldn’t get the ball off them and the odd occasion we did couldn’t keep it. The third soon followed when O’Dea was badly caught and Ozil got the penalty they should have had in the first half. Simple fact, whatever about Robbie Keane playing the MLS at the end of his career, for a player of O’Dea’s age it’s not a good enough standard to play in and hope to be up to speed at international level. Klose then finished neatly for the fourth and a poor clearance from O’Shea led to the fifth from Kross before the same player struck the final nail in the coffin and made it six with Ireland in total disarray. Keogh’s consolation at the death only served to dampen the cacophony of boos that seemed to be building as most of the remaining crowd were still ironically applauding the goal when the full time whistle went.

So where do we go from here. Trap doesn’t seem in any mood to go anywhere and the budget isn’t there for the FAI to pay him off. What are the alternatives? McCarthy carries baggage with a section of the support and looks to be heading for Bolton. Funny to see Dunphy cheerleading for his appointment last night given how vitriolic he was in calling for his head 10 years ago. Coyle may well be heading back to Burnley. Whatever about paying Trap off the FAI certainly don’t have the cash to buy out someone’s contract. And could another manager do much more with what are probably the poorest group of players we’ve had in a generation. Would the likes of Hoolahan or Clark have made any difference? And should we win on Tuesday we’ll have 6 points from 3 games which is the most anyone would have expected if we’re being honest. Austria being held by Kazakhstan last night out our win over there in a different light and means we’ve got 2 points in hand on them given their previous defeat to Germany. Although the fact that Sweden struggled and needed 2 late goals to beat the Faroes is a worry. Tuesday’s game in now a must win, lose or draw and Trap’s position becomes untenable. The players that people had been calling for let themselves down last night and need to step up. And the manager has to stop pushing square pegs into round holes. Win and 2nd place is still on despite the abysmal recent performances. Either way something has to change.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Euro 2012 - Day 13. Unlucky for some.

So that's it. After all the planning, organising and anticipation it came down to 9 days and 3 games in which we just didn't perform. Feeling pretty disappointed right now on the train to Sopot as myself and Louise travel back up to the coast to unwind for a few days before coming back home to reality.

We arrived to Poznan yesterday in blistering heat, it was by far the hottest day since we arrived and I was concerned that the players might struggle a bit, it was in the thirties and was that damp humid muggy heat that saps your energy as you're sweating from every pore. We were met at the train station by the guy we were renting the apartment from and he dropped half of us with our bags to the apartment while the rest of us followed in a cab. Again, the generosity of the hosts shone through, he could easily have met us at the apartment but insisted on meeting us from the train. All he could talk about was how much the media over here had taken to the Irish fans and how bowled over the locals were, a great impression has been left.

Having dropped our bags off we headed down to the square where fans had congregated and found the place thronged with green clad supporters with only a handful of Italians present. The atmosphere was good if lacking a little in intensity due to the meaningless nature of the game and a bit of travel fatigue setting in amongst the fan base as we reached the end of our journey. We bumped into some familiar faces and then, showing our new found maturity, decided to go for a group meal with the 7 of us rather than settling down in the square with a bag of cans! Found a place that some of the lads had eaten in before the first game so decided to grab a table there and see if the ribs were as good as they'd said. The place was pretty busy and incredibly warm but once a round of beers (and 7 waters ;) ) arrived we began to cool down a little and started to feel a small degree of anticipation for the match. The huge plate of ribs duly came and went (they were sensational, best I've ever eaten!) and we hit the fan zone. With a bag of cans.

Around 6.30 we decided to head for the ground but the one fault I'd found with the trip reared it's head again as the organisation for transporting fans to the ground was a bit lacking and the crush to get onto the trams was horrendous. We soon realised we'd have to go back towards the terminus to get on as it was mayhem at the stop we were at so walked that direction and eventually got squeezed into a carriage that was resembling a cattle truck at that stage. The volume of people on it combined with the heat and the fact that the sheer weight of numbers meant the tram couldn't pick up any speed meant a long unpleasant journey to the ground and it was close to 8 by the time we made it. One drink outside and in we went having stopped for a few pics with the local police holding the Drumcondra 69ers flag aloft! Got in just at kick off and watched as we finally managed to get beyond 5 minutes in a half without conceding! Buoyed by this, the team actually began to play a bit of football with one crunching Kevin Doyle tackle on Pirlo ratcheting up the atmosphere as the crowd began to roar on the team. The usual chants were going and then a new one, which had been started in the square earlier that day when some lads had unfurled a flag bearing the words 'We'll sing when we want, f#*k off Keano' on it, began to reverberate around the ground. To the tune of Arsenal's Van Persie chant, the Irish support en masse were roaring out 'We'll sing when we want. We'll sing when we wa-a-ant! Fuck off Roy Keane! We'll sing when we want!'. Seems like 10 years after he seriously divided the Irish fans he's succeeded in uniting us again, there really has been a strong backlash to his comments over here amongst all but his most one eyed supporters. By all means criticise the failings of the team but he's way out of step with the Irish support and clearly doesn't understand where we're coming from. Roy against the world again. So be it. His loss.

Back on the pitch we were getting into the last 10 mins of the half and looking comfortable to go in level at halftime when our old failings returned again. Shay looked nailed on to comfortably gather a speculative 30 yard effort that he'd normally be able to take with his eyes closed but inexplicably let it slip through his hands and out for a corner. It was very reminiscent of Bonner's gaffe v Holland for Wim Jonk's goal in Packie's last game at World Cup 94 and I thought to myself 'At least it didn't go in, just get the corner clear and no one will dwell on the error'. Unfortunately that wasn't to be as a combination of slack marking and maybe slow reflexes meant that the smallest man on the pitch in Cassano got a free header that had clearly crossed the line before Duff hooked it clear. 1-0 Italy and here we go again.

2nd half began and again we manage to get past the first 5 minutes without shipping a goal and again we start playing okay and at least keep ourselves competitive in the game. Every so often the Spain-Croatia latest score was shown on the big screen and at 0-0 meant that a 1-0 victory for Italy wouldn't be enough by my calculations, as with 3 teams on 5 points head to head couldn't be used so goal difference would come into play. I dunno if they were worried that if they pushed too hard we'd hit on the break or if they really fancied Spain to beat Croatia but they seemed happy to sit on what they had. We kept probing and fashioned a couple of half chances and, after a further stadium wide rendition of 'We'll sing when we want' there seemed to be a bit of belief coming back to the fans as we stayed in the game right to the final act.

This being Ireland though, we were brought back crashing down to earth in a crazy last 5 minutes though! First off a goal flash came through from Gdansk. 87 minutes, Spain 1 Croatia 0. This puts Italy through with a single goal victory so their few fans begin to celebrate wildly. Then Keith Andrews, probably our best player this tournament (not that that's saying much) and one of the few to emerge with any credit gets a very harsh 2nd booking from the ref (who was awful all night btw) and is sent off. A few choice words were sent to the ref by him and a ball and water bottle took an awful kicking but it leaves us down to 10 men for the final minutes. Still we pushed on but Italy hit on the counter and win a corner. Corner comes in and Balotelli makes a mug of John O'Shea and whips a cracking finish past Given. Game well and truly over and Italy join Spain in the quarters.

After the final whistle the players came over to applaud the fans and the pain of defeat is etched on every face in the stands and on the pitch. I've been at games where we've been knocked out before but it never felt like this. One defiant blast of The Fields and we're just about to leave when we notice the Italian team has left their pocket of fans and are walking around the pitch applauding our support and getting applauded in return. A nice gesture which shows the esteem our reputation is held in.

By now the heat and humidity has turned into another thunderstorm and we leave the stadium to another tram ride from hell to the backdrop of spectacular strikes of fork lightning splitting the sky before the inevitable rain arrives for another soaking when we arrived back into town. The rest of the lads had arrived back before us and had found an Indian restaurant with a bar so we joined them there and we're joined by my old mate Feargal who'd come up for this one game. We had a couple of drinks and I gave a blast of 'Parklife' with the last remnants of my vocal chords in response to the gang of lads on the next table who's just sung 'Wonderwall'. Despite pleas for an encore we decided to head back to the apartment and have a night cap and reminisce there before crashing and going our separate ways in the morning.

And so here we are, everyone's departed with the promise of shared photos and reunions back in Dublin when some of the lads that live abroad are in town. The trips had its ups and downs but has been brilliant leaving aside the football.

The lows:

The football obviously. We never got going and bar the time between St Ledgers goal and Croatia's 2nd never looked like it. We need to change for the World Cup qualifiers and if it takes retirements to force Trap's hand then so be it. New blood is needed and we can't keep relying on our old stalwarts.

The injuries to key players. Regardless of what the camp were saying it's blatantly obvious that Given was not 100% nor were Dunne and O'Shea. Shay's clearances were barely reaching halfway and the usual spring in his legs was absent. Dunne and O'Shea were sluggish all tournament.

The performances of the senior players. In addition to the 3 mentioned above it was a tournament to forget for Keane, Duff, Doyle and McGeady in particular. The MLS seems to have blunted Robbie's edge as I feared it would and if he's serious about playing on, a move back to Villa or similar is essential. I really thought McGeady might show what he has this tournament but the usual inconsistencies returned. Duff, I think will retire and Doyle needs a move badly but won't have wooed any prospective suitors this last 9 days.

Formation and subs from Trap. We need a plan B and cannot keep relying on a rigid 4-4-2. We need to utilise what talent we have and do so in the correct manner. Bringing on Cox out wide v Croatia even if he tucked in from the wing made little sense with McClean & Hunt sitting on the bench. Starting Cox as the link between midfield and the forwards when it's Walters who has experience playing that role? Crazy. And Fahey should have been replaced with a like for like when he couldn't travel rather than a clogger like Green. I don't think it would have made any odds but even at 30 Hoolahan is worth another look. That said, I still think Trap deserves another 2 years, he's only the 3rd manager to get us this far and until the changes being made at underage level are embedded and players who've come through that start reaching senior age, the senior team needs to be managed in it's own right. We needed someone to turn around the fiasco of the previous regime and he has done that and restored some order. Some of the stuff about football being set back years is utter rubbish. Back to when we weren't even qualifying? The Dutch model is the one everyone's copying yet despite that they still went home with 3 defeats as well. Sometimes teams have bad tournaments, it's happened bigger teams than us.

The officiating. Don't think it'd have made any odds but it was Godawful. Little contact allowed, players staying down after barely being touched and refs doing nothing, bogey offsides, stonewall pens not given because the crowd are whistling, brutal. And don't get me started on the goal line officials, wtf do they actually do? Sooner they mic up the refs and get a TMO the better, it's one of the few things about rugby I admire.

The bloody weather! Everywhere we go, we always take the weather with us! Monsoons, thunderstorms, heat waves you name it! Was funny hearing the song being changed to 'we always take St. Ledger with us' though!

The highs:

Too many to mention really but the main ones.

St Ledgers goal. Despite the moron in the crowd with the whistle that caused a double take from everyone, it was still an epic celebration when it went in, shame more didn't follow.

The reception from the locals. I think most of us back home would have friends or colleagues from Poland given their migration to Ireland during the Tiger years but I think a special bond has been formed this last week or so, they have been incredible hosts, have made us so welcome and have been really taken by the conduct in general of the fans. Yes, there's been a lot of drinking and I've seen some articles at home bemoaning the fact that there's been an element of 'Oxegen on tour' round some of the campsites but with nearly 40,000 fans here there's always going to be a bit of that. For me, the reputation of the Irish abroad has been hugely enhanced by the tournament and looking at the media coverage outside of Ireland would back that up. I'd obviously sooner have had success on the field but it's a small consolation. Just a shame we're not as good at football as a nation as we seem to be at begrudery.

Meeting friends, old and new. It may be a cliche but the camaraderie on Ireland trips is something special. Was great to spend time with people I've known years like the Brummie boys, Terry the Tash, McCoy and the London crew, Billy, Mark and Paul, Bradley and his mob and people from more recent trips like the YBIG gang we met in Macedonia and the Quinn towers and their mates. Bumped into some of the Bohs lads and the Swords crew, Feargal, Bren and Noel, Caimin and Karl from work, familiar faces everywhere we turned, it's a home from home. Had a great gang to travel with, 2 top lads I hadn't met before in Jimmy and Niall and the usual crowd from recent games with John, Ray and Peter for the duration and Richie, Alan and Louise all doing a stint. You're all apes mind you! Apart from Louise. :) It was some craic! Was great to have Lou come over as well as it meant I could move to a room where I didn't have to share with someone who snored! Seriously, it's been great to have her here and I'm lucky she's happy to take a football trip as her hols. Even on the trains travelling around some of the best craic is just getting chatting to other fans you may never see again. Everyone I've met over here has added to the experience.

Anyway, we're nearly at Sopot and my thumb is about to drop off so I'll finish. Sorry for the length of the post but delighted so many people seemed to enjoy the updates, it's been a great way of passing the time on some of the journeys, see you all when I get back!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Euro 21012 - Day 12, Gameday 3. Back to Poznan.

With temperatures due to hit the thirties today we're currently on a sweatbox of a train back to Poznan as I write this having decided to stay an extra day in the beautiful city of Torun rather than head yesterday as originally planned. Seems a good few Irish did the same as there's a good number of us on the train but the mood in general is far more subdued than for previous games with tonight's game being nothing more than a dead rubber and the chance to try and regain a bit of pride and send the Italians home.

Torun was still pretty busy the last few nights, we spent Friday evening watching the thunderstorm disrupt things in the Ukraine for their game with France before meeting up with the Brummies and the Quinns and co and becoming honorary Swedes for the night as we tend to do for any country England happen to play. In keeping with the rest of the football on the trip that obviously didn't work out too well! :). Few drinks and a bit of a sing song with some other fans and locals back in the square and that was that. A few renditions of The Fields of Athenry could be heard as we walked around, people over here are not happy with Roy Keane's comments at the moment, not one fan is happy with what's transpired on the pitch but given that these comments come from a man who's previously on record for criticising what he called the prawn sandwich brigade for not getting behind Man U when things weren't going their way it's difficult to take that level of hypocrisy seriously. Can't have it both ways Roy. No one will chant 'you only sing when you're winning' at us.

Saturday brought with it a lot of excitement as the Poland v Czech Republic game was on that evening with Poland in a must win situation. With the game not on till 8.45 we took the afternoon to take in some more of the sights and killed an hour with a boat trip up the Vistula river which runs along the outside of the city walls. Beautiful scenery on both sides but it started clouding over heavily while we were out and after hearing a couple of thunderclaps and witnessing some lightning we docked and dived into a barge bar on the river just as the heavens opened again and a similar thunderstorm to the one witnessed the previous night in the Ukraine hit. I don't think I've ever seen rain like it, it absolutely hammered down for about an hour before passing and leaving a rainbow hitting the water right in front of us, amazing sight. Funny enough a police boat came up the river just then so the running joke was that it was to guard the pot of gold!

We'd more or less decided to stay the extra day in Torun at that stage as none of us fancied the madness of the night before the game in Poznan so myself and Lou headed back to the hotel to sort the extra night out before joining the rest for dinner, painting our faces in Polish colours and trying to find somewhere to cheer on our hosts. We settled on a bar packed out with locals where the atmosphere was rocking although the heat inside made us move out onto the terrace where things were a bit more roomy. All the locals were bedecked in red and white and there was a real sense that this was their night as they started strongly and it seemed like a matter of time before the goal they longed for would go in. Unfortunately half time came and went scoreless and the Czechs began to dictate things in the 2nd half. Still they roared their team forward as one of their players went on a forceful run from midfield but suddenly he overran the ball and the Czezhs hit on the counter right through where he'd run from and a couple of passes later the ball was in the Polish net. The deflation of the atmosphere was like a balloon being pricked before the defiant chants of 'Polska!' picked up again. But there was a desperation about their play at this stage and while they had a couple of chances very late on they never looked like getting the 2 goals they needed. In fact, with word coming through of the Greek victory against Russia most seemed to be happy enough that the last minute effort cleared off the line hadn't gone in as while a draw was no good to Poland it would have put Russia through and the Czechs out. International rivalries can do funny things to sports fans! That said, we seem to be taking on the role of tournament jonahs with every team we cheer on taking a beating! :)

After the game there was a lot of mutual back slapping and consoling going on with the Poles giving it loads on the Irish chants they'd picked up and the Irish chanting 'We love you Poland, we do!' back at them. The bond between the two nations has definitely been strengthened this past week or so, they've been brilliant hosts and have taken us to their hearts. Still doesn't make up for our results tho! :)

After the match finished, as if on cue another huge thunderstorm rolled in so we dived for cover into what turned out to be an Indian hookah bar complete with cushions laid out on the floor, hookah pipes bubbling away and a very chilled atmosphere! Great spot to unwind for a few hours waiting for the rain to stop! Unfortunately the rain didn't stop so for the third time on the trip got absolutely soaked to the skin as we ran for a cab.

Yesterday was our last in Torun and the weather was actually decent for once so it was a day for sightseeing and relaxing before we headed to a BBQ one of the local hotels put on as a thank you where we watched Holland exit the tournament with 3 defeats to give us a chance of avoiding the wooden spoon if we can get anything tonight.

A few colds and chest infections seem to be creeping in after the various drenchings but armed with cough bottles and tablets from the pharmacy we're now pushing on to Poznan! Not really happy with the team selection, I think Gibson, Walters and McClean should be in for Whelan, Doyle and McGeady but we all know how stubborn Trap is. I believe this is the last hurrah for this team and he wants to give them a chance to bow out with the 11 that qualified. I'm delighted to see Duff get the armband for his 100th cap and would love to see him roll back the clock 10 years as his performances in Japan / Korea were the best I've ever seen from a wide man in the green shirt. He's been a wonderful servant but I think he'll retire now and it wouldn't surprise me to see Keane, Given & possibly Dunne do likewise. No one can fault their dedication to the cause and it's a shame they only made two tournaments but greats like Brady and Giles never graced any so at least they've had the two.

Again, we're travelling with little expectation. If Italy had held on v Croatia and only needed a draw I'd have expected the draw tonight. The fact they need the win and could still go out even with that is ominous. If we can summon up the spirit of Paris then maybe be can have a chance. We live in hope!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Euro 2012 - Day 9. The evening after the night before.

It's sunk in that we're heading home and realistically our hopes were unfounded and our expectations were probably overhyped. I never thought we'd ship 4 but outside of Germany there's not a team that will live with Spain in that form.

The day had started well with the sun shining and a spring in our step as we left the hotel and heading for a quick beer before getting the bus into Gdansk city. Had a funny moment when the bus arrived and a good natured mixture of Irish and Spanish fans all bailed on filling the bus only to be told to get off again as the wooden bridge into the beach are we were staying in is slightly the worse for wear and the driver didn't fancy the bus and everyone on in going for an unscheduled dip into the Baltic sea! So over the bridge we all filed to the bus stop across the islet where everyone barrelled on again and off we went! As soon as we started moving the chants started with each teams fans alternating the likes of Molloy Malone, Viva Espana, a team of Gary Breens, La Bamba etc! Great craic and great banter between the fans and then some locals started joining in with Polska chants and one old lad who fancied himself as the Polish Perry Como crooned a few tunes! John offered his seat to a local old lady and was rewarded with a few strawberries from a punnet she was carrying, it was that type of journey! However en route we'd noticed the storm clouds gathering which was the last thing we needed given the Spaniards complaints about the dry surface impacting on their passing game.

We duly arrived in the centre and made our way to the old town square where both sets of supporters were congregating. We'd just managed to blag a covered table in a cafe bar when the heavens opened. The only 2 days of constant rain and they both happen to be our game days. Not a good omen and not ideal for our attire either given the Irish males penchant for shorts and a t shirt once the mercury hits double figures! Oh well, at least I wasn't wearing flip flops like some! Unlike Sunday I had my own game face on as I'd no hangover having discovered the recuperating qualities of 9.5% Polish porter the previous night. If Guinness is good for you then this stuff must be great for you, right? :) Anyway, we hung our flag and settled down for some serious lubrication of the vocal chords in preparation for the game. Various friends and acquaintances dropped in from previous games and some new arrivals who'd missed the first match came in and the craic was good till the time came upon us to hit the ground.

On the advice of a couple of locals we took the train rather than the tram and got to the ground pretty quickly with the usual chants in the packed carriages adding to the building atmosphere. It was pretty clear on arrival that the organisation in Gdansk was a lot poorer than Poznan. The way into the stadium seemed to be a series of bottlenecks leading to big delays and a lot of pushing and shoving which wasn't ideal for the girls present in particular but we finally made the seats just as the anthems were starting. Little did we know what was about to unfold.....

A huge amount of disbelief had been expressed by Trap's decision to start Cox ahead of Walters but to his credit he started well to pull a save from Cassilas in the 2nd minute. Unfortunately that was as good as it got with Shay slow to react again as Torres, who couldn't even finish his dinner all season, chose his return to form to come against us. I think Shay could have got his hands up quicker and pushed it over but the shot had a lot of pace on. I still contend he's not fully fit as its normally a save he's make. From there on in we were chasing shadows the whole half but at least it was only one at half time. We did have a bit if comedy relief when we noticed Marty Morrissey standing behind us with a jacket on with MM embroidered on the sleeve! As if people wouldn't recognise that uniquely shaped head!

Anyway, 2nd half starts with Trap admitting his mistake by bringing Walters into the fray but déjà vu. For the 4th half in a row this team, who'd shipped only 3 goals in our previous 14 games, gives away another. A mistake from another stalwart in Dunne gives away possession, Shay punches a ball he'd normally catch and Silva mesmerises our defence. 2-0 and game over. All we were hoping by then was to avoid a rout but still they passed around us and we couldn't get a sniff. It was as good a display as I've ever witnessed in all my years watching football, they really are an incredible team. 2 relatively late goals bring the rout we feared but as the noise from the 15% or so of the attendance made up of Spanish fans gets louder our own defiance in the stands comes to the fore and the last 10 minutes of the game are played out to a spine tingling rendition of The Fields of Athenry. Fuck the begrudgers and those that say this was accepting mediocrity. We have a team where our best players are reaching the end and the rest are honest midtable pros from the Premier league and the Championship. We were playing a team made up from the 2 best teams in Spain and arguably Europe augmented by a couple of players from the English Champions and Champions League winners. Do people honestly think that a player such as Hoolahan who's had one season at the top level or rookies like McCarthy, Clark and Coleman, with all due respect to them would've made a blind bit of difference?? Even in 2002 there were at least 6 players with recent Champions League experience behind them. Zero this time out. Perspective is needed, I can't fault the effort out here, whatever about the application.

What happened with the fans was a reaction to the opposition celebrating and letting them know we were still there. Would people prefer we sat there in silence or worse again booed the team? Fuck that. We may be beaten. We'll never be bowed.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Euro 2012 - Day 8 and Gameday 2

We arrived in Gdansk yesterday still numbering 7 having lost Richie McCaul who travelled home after Poznan via Lodz but having gained the lovely Louise Considine who joined us in Torun. Had a great couple of days in Torun where we stayed in a cracking 4 star hotel called the Filmar about 10 minutes walk out from the old town. The town itself is a gorgeous medieval town deserving of its Unesco heritage status, it's full of old churches, nice terrace cafe bars, museums etc and was the birthplace of Copernicus who's statue dominates the main square.

The pace in the town was a little less hectic than Poznan which was a relief and the compact nature of the town made it easier to meet up with some of the regular travelling crew who we'd missed in Poznan like Steve Bradley and his crew and some of the Birmingham and London Irish. Of course, meeting those and also the lads we were on the tear with in Poznan like The Quinn Towers and Billy and Paul invariably led to 'a few quiet ones' leading to a few more noisy ones and some songs and chants on occasion around the old square!

The biggest buzz around Torun was the night the Poland Russia game was on when the city was packed with locals out in force to support their team. Having decided to forgo the fan zone big screens we settled in the covered terrace area of a local bar on the square where a tv was set up. The fact we'd found a Guinness tap and having od'd on the local lager over the previous few days sealed the deal for us as we ordered some surprisingly decent pints of Arthurs finest and joined in with the 'Polska' chants reverberating around the square. This choice also let to a slightly disconcerting match experience as there was a bar just across the square whose tv picture was somehow about 5 seconds ahead of ours so every 'oooohhhh' and 'aaaahhhh' coming from there alerted us that something was about to happen! So we were ready for the dejection when Russia went in front but also the elation when Poland levelled! Once the celebrating started in the bar over the road for the goal there was a build up of a 'Woooooohhhhhh...' chant for 5 seconds until we saw what's probably been the goal of the tournament so far!

After the final whistle the square was flooded with face painted and flag adorned locals and cars beeping their horns as the town locked down for a party. Maybe OTT for a draw but given the history between the two countries it reminded me of our moral 1-1 victory against England in 1990. We hung round for a while before leaving the younger generation of fans to the party, if any single Irish fans were hoping to pull a local lass then that was the night, no question!

The following morning were were up early for the noon train to Gdansk where we arrived about 3.15 and got taxis to our hotel. We're about 20 minutes drive outside the city on the beach here, hotel is decent even if the area is a bit sleepy. Should probably give a special mention to Terry the Tash who's been acting as an unofficial travel agent for a huge number of the green army and sorted this hotel for us. The trip's been like 4 different holidays so far, from the madness of a city break in Berlin to a football trip in Poznan to a cultural break of sorts in Torun and onto the beach here.

We watched the games in a beach bar yesterday and the butterflies for today's match really started when looking at Holland managing to still have a chance of going through despite two losses but knowing that a second loss for us today is curtains for our chances.

The more relaxed pace of the last few days means that in general minds and bodies have recovered and are ready for the Spanish inquisition later! Walters for Doyle would be my change with the players carrying knocks hopefully having benefited from the extra days. Some gametime for McClean as well hopefully if we need something in the second half. We head into the centre at lunchtime more in hope than expectation but certain that whatever the result the players and fans will do our utmost to do the country proud.

Is feidir linn. Believe!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Euro 2012 - Day 5

Well, just arrived in Torun for phase 3 after our various antics in Berlin and Poznan nursing a sense of grievance over some big decisions that didn't go our way but realistic enough to know we were beaten by a better team. Tough enough to deal with quality the like of Modric and co without seeing stonewall pens not given or contentious fouls / offsides not going our way.

We gave goals away at awful times, Given doesn't look fit, I think had he a better spring in his calf he'd have reached the first, to go a goal down so early was a killer, especially after the atmosphere at the start, I've never experienced such raw emotion during Amhran na Bhfiann, rows of fans standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers with our arms round each others shoulders bellowing it out, I saw a number of men with tears in their eyes, it was absolutely electric. Deflated a bit after the goal but gradually lifted if and when Sledge's goal went in it was absolute carnage, lads tumbling down 4 or 5 rows of seats, completely mental!

Thought we got a bit of a foothold for 15 mins then but pressure was building on us again coming up to half time, had we kept it at one all then maybe things could have been different but shipping that at that stage and then again right at the start of 2nd half was an absolute killer. The lads battled gamely but lacked imagination and when Robbie was clearly taken down and the ref didn't give it we knew it wasn't our night. Am sure the ref choked that decision due to us not putting the ball out when their player was pretending to be injured for about the 10th time and was afraid what the Croat reaction would be.

Trip in general been great, suffered badly yesterday after a big Thursday, Friday and Saturday, took it handy so better today, Louise is arriving this evening so manners will be put back on me! The lads I'm travelling with are bang on, first trip for 2 of them, been some laugh! Polish people have been very welcoming, not seen any trouble with Irish fans but there were a few gangs of local hooligans targeting people yesterday although they seemed to be staying clear of people in colours, saw one lad take a kicking before he managed to get away but there's a fair police presence and we won't see any of that in Torun which looks a really nice city on first impression and isn't a host city.

Gdansk on Wednesday before the match on Thursday now, getting worried, praying for a miracle! :)