For the Irish Under 18 soccer team to beat Germany and thus capture the European championship is nothing short of phenomenal. Compare the size of the two countries, the population, the number of youngsters playing the game, the financial resources. There is no comparison. But then again, David slaying Goliath is a story that we have seen repeating itself time and again in the course of human events.
It is again repeating itself, not just now in biblical terms, but because the Irish did it only a few weeks ago when the Under 16s, also coached by Brian Kerr, turned aside the challenge of Italy and captured that European championship at that slightly younger age level.
Before that, Ireland had never won a major soccer championship at any level. Added to this, Kerr’s Under 20 side came third in the world championship.
A couple of months ago, Ireland’s winning ways were also demonstrated by the country’s Under 19 rugby players. They won the European title by beating France on French soil, in Toulouse. They overcame the South Africans along the way, a feat beyond the country’s senior team. In rugby, unlike soccer, Ireland has the benefit of a pool of players spanning the border. But even such combined resources pale against what the French can muster.
Ireland’s youthful prowess was on display on the athletics track too in recent days. Kilkenny’s Emily Maher captured the 100- and 200-meter titles at the World Youth Olympics in Moscow. Ireland has a tradition of producing quality middle- and long-distance runners. A world-beating sprinter in green, white and orange is a rarity. Maher’s achievement is one to be truly savored.
Savored because whatever the reason is, the record shows that Irish teams and individuals do find it harder to win once they blossom into full adulthood. The world does indeed get tougher as you grow up, no less in sport than in daily life. But clearly there are three sports in Ireland right now where the promise of a golden future hangs heavy in the air. Best of Irish luck to them, no matter what age they compete at.
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