A back to the fu­ture day as 20 years of Ire­land foot­ball flash be­fore our eyes

As pun­dits dis­cuss Mc­Carthy’s re­turn, it’s clear the time has flown by

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Sports - Mary Han­ni­gan TVView

Lest you had any doubts that you’re not get­ting any younger, Fri­day night and Sun­day af­ter­noon’s TV view­ing was a chill­ing enough re­minder that the years are rat­tling by.

On Fri­day, there was Rob­bie Keane play­ing in the Un­der-18 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships in Cyprus, look­ing like a lad who’d yet to cel­e­brate his 12th birth­day, wear­ing shorts so big he could have fit the Ir­ish back four into them.

Come Sun­day there he was again, all grown up, wear­ing the spiffi­est of suits, sport­ing the chic-est of hair­dos, be­ing un­veiled as a mem­ber of Mick Mc­Carthy’s coach­ing staff.

Those 20 years? Yeah, rat­tled by.

Who had sug­gested Rob­bie join Mick’s team?

Rob­bie him­self, Mick re­vealed.

“I thought, ‘you cheeky bol­locks,’” he said.

Wel­come back, Mick.

De­par­ture

The fact that Mick knew the date of his de­par­ture from the job even be­fore he took it on (for a se­cond time) has prompted a bit of chin-scratch­ing, and you’d half a no­tion lis­ten­ing to him on Sun­day that he found the ar­range­ment a bit pe­cu­liar him­self. RTÉ’s Tony O’Donoghue put this very query to him. A na­tion held its breath. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT? YOU’RE NOT BE­ING DISINGENUOUS ABOUT IT, ARE YOU?” Mick didn’t ask. He just an­swered the ques­tion. Tony prob­a­bly doesn’t know him­self, he no longer needs to go to work in a flak jacket. Happy days.

Over on Sky Sports News Clin­ton Mor­ri­son was over­flow­ing with en­thu­si­asm about Mick’s reap­point­ment, above all sa­lut­ing the man’s pa­tience. “I was an hour late for my first meet­ing with him. ‘Five more min­utes,’ he said, and that would have been the end of it – I’d never have played for Ire­land.”

He did, though, “Repub­lic of Ire­land 2001-2006”, as the cap­tion read un­der his face. Owen Coyle’s cap­tion read “Repub­lic of Ire­land 1994”, no­body at SSN cruel enough to point out that his in­ter­na­tional ca­reer with us con­sisted of seven min­utes in April 1994. But that’s seven more min­utes than you or I have mus­tered, so whist. Coyle was in­ter­est­ing on Stephen Kenny be­ing ap­pointed Mick’s 2020 suc­ces­sor, a man for whom he has a moun­tain of re­spect hav­ing locked horns with him dur­ing Kenny’s Dun­fermline-manag­ing days.

But it was, on the whole, a back to the fu­ture kind of day. A “hugely pos­i­tive” one for Ir­ish foot­ball, the FAI’s chief ex­ec­u­tive told us. Man­agers may come, man­agers may go, but John De­laney, no more than the civil ser­vice, goes on for­ever.

He had in­tro­duced Mick as “our se­cond most suc­cess­ful man­ager ever” and your ears might have pricked. Had we our­selves a dé­tente? But then he added “after Jack”, in­stead of look­ing at the broader pic­ture, in terms of over­all achieve­ment and legacy, and adding “after Brian Kerr”.

Scrap­book

There was a scene in Kerr’s Kids, shown on Eir Sport on Fri­day, where Liam Ge­orge was leaf­ing through a scrap­book jammed with mem­o­ries from that very lovely week in Cyprus two decades ago, Ge­orge scor­ing the win­ning penalty in the shoot-out against Ger­many in the fi­nal. Ger­many!

And Kevin Bran­ni­gan’s doc­u­men­tary had you feel­ing you were leaf­ing through a scrap­book too: gor­geous ar­chive footage, im­ages and anec­dotes re­mind­ing us of the very mag­i­cal things achieved by Kerr’s un­der­age teams in that era.

An­niver­sary

The FAI could have taken a leaf out of the GAA’s book and pa­raded the Boys from 1998 around the Aviva this year be­fore any of our games, to mark the 20th an­niver­sary of win­ning the Un­der-16 and Un­der-18 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships, and their ap­pear­ance might well have lifted the sup­port­ers’ spir­its ahead of watch­ing the dross pro­duced by our 2018 se­nior side.

But, not to be. The clips of those young fel­las in ac­tion, though, given a ball and a yard of grass to play with a beau­ti­ful free­dom, was a re­minder that watch­ing Ir­ish in­ter­na­tional teams can ac­tu­ally be a joy, rather than feel­ing like a penance.

“It was just a good time for Ir­ish foot­ball,” said Rob­bie, “and I hope those days come back.”

He’s now part of the team charged with that task. Time rat­tling by.

Who had sug­gested Rob­bie join Mick’s team? Rob­bie him­self, Mick re­vealed. “I thought, ‘you cheeky bol­locks’,” he said

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