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
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.
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”.
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.
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