By Stephen McKinley
DUBLIN — It was the best of times, then the worst of times. A little over 24 hours after the luck of the Irish ran out and the boys in green were knocked out of the World Cup in that penalty shootout, Ireland has been coming to terms with a sense of devastation. The country is, to use a well-turned phrase, “tired and emotional.” Or, depending on which newspaper one picks up, Sunday, June 16, went from being “Bloomsday to Gloomsday.”
“Our luck seemed to literally run out,” said fan Margaret McCloskey, who had watched every second of the game on Sunday. “We didn’t lose because we were beaten by a stronger team, we lost by chance in the penalties.”
In the Odeon Bar on Dublin’s Harcourt Street, the moment when Kevin Kilbane’s spot-kick missed drew something between a gasp and a scream from the crowd — then all was silent for a moment.
“It was so draining,” said Noreen Bowden from Galway, who was in the Odeon for the match. “But after, although some people were crying, they picked up a bit and had another drink. But most people were starting to go home after another hour.”
Another fan said: “You had the game itself, then the extra time, and then the penalty shootout. It was exhausting. They did their best.”
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The dying moments of the game must have been especially excruciating in the Erin Bar in Lifford, Co. Donegal, where Margaret Given sat and watched her son, Shay Given, the Irish goalkeeper, hoping and praying that he would keep the dream alive. It was not to be — despite the crowd switching the traditional chant from “Ole, Ole” to “Oh Shay, Oh Shay, Oh Shay, Oh Shay.”
The aftermath has been devastating for many, but there has also been a sense of just reflection on a proud performance. Just as many have praised the Irish team for doing so well — several newspapers called them heroes in the Monday editions.
The team’s rollercoaster ride from the Roy Keane exit to the Eamon Dunphy sideshow have been recounted, not forgetting the famous victories along the way — even if two of them were really draws — arriving tired but emotional (again) at Sunday’s cruelest of exits.
For some fans, memories of the Roy Keane departure were the perfect backdrop to the Irish performance.
“Everyone was lamenting that we’d lost Keane,” said Tyrone man Eamon Wadden, “the suggestion always being that he was the only decent player on the team. I think we proved that to be nonsense in four amazing games.
“Seventy minutes into the game, some guy turned to me and said, ‘This would be a horrible way to lose, a penalty shootout would be better.’ But the penalty shootout was so much worse.”
It was clear from media commentary that the Ireland saga had attracted attention for more than just footballing skill. The UK’s Guardian opined that the experience constituted “World Cup lessons for Northern Ireland,” because it “was a weekend in which millions of British and Irish people cheerfully shared together in the ups and downs of one of the most enthralling World Cups for decades.” The newspaper’s writer asked why the feuding sides in Northern Ireland could not learn that “tribalists are out of touch.”
The Irish Times spoke of “character to be proud of,” and noted that as the team and its manager head back for a rapturous welcome in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, it was “McCarthy did us proud.”
The Daily Telegraph, not always a fan of things Irish, claimed the team as an “honorary home side,” and suggested that “many of our readers will have felt a pang.”
At RTE, Bill O’Herlihy delivered a concise analysis: “Disappointed?” he said. “Undoubtedly. Proud? Unquestionably.”
Noreen Bowden, having made her way back to Galway City, noticed that not everyone had ended the evening so stoically.
“It’s a shame, but I saw blood on the street and also a lot of vomit,” she said. “But Galway’s really well designed for public celebration.”
Unfortunately for some people, Ireland’s great game had ended ended in tears.