The men in green were a joy to watch and they charmed the soccer globe with enchanted displays of never-say-die play. Damien Duff enthralled everybody with his blinding runs and tantalizing turns, while Robbie Keane’s goals kept Ireland in the Cup.
Even against Spain, Ireland were outstanding. It was nerve racking watching the game, but it was riveting nonetheless. It was such a wonderful occasion while it lasted, but the end was near when the penalty takers were announced for the Irish. Many a face cringed at the selection, and many a face cried at the outcome when the Irish kickers looked uncomfortable as they approached their misses. That was the end of a team that was pumped up to do well after their captain, Roy Keane, fell out with Mick McCarthy before their games begun. Keano, of course, didn’t play.
The bust-up between the two brought worldwide attention and the interest in the Irish team was at an all-time high, but for the wrong reasons. Then both men had their books published in a very timely fashion: just as the World Cup joys faded into the past. However, the eye was on McCarthy. Indeed, the pressure was on him as Keane stated he would never play for his country again as long as McCarthy was coach. McCarthy claimed he wanted to take the team to Euro 2004, but two loses put an end to his reign as the Irish boss. Not the most positive of stories to look back on, but it is by no means over. If Keane returns to play for his country, he will put himself in a similar situation to the one his adversary was in: Keane will have to be on a winning side in the Euro qualifiers to avoid the eye being on him should he lose. What a mess and what a shame to have such a shambles steal the headlines for Irish soccer in the 2002 WC.
Disappointment continued for Irish soccer when its bid with Scotland to host Euro 2008 didn’t even get in UEFA’s top four, with Switzerland-Austria winning the vote to host. The Celtic bid sounded like a real winner and the romance of Ireland and Scotland hosting European soccer had fantastic potential.
Refusal by the Irish government to fund a new national stadium hindered the Celtic bid. The depleted Lansdowne Road did not help matters and it didn’t look like renovations were under way. Depending on the Gaelic Athletic Association to make Croke Park a venue demonstrated a profound lack of insight by Irish soccer. Why should GAA cater to soccer? It is common knowledge that Ireland drag their feet when it comes to facilities for soccer, at least on a national scale. Scotland should have went solo earlier on in the bid.
Upon hearing that the Celtic bid failed, SFA chief executive David Taylor said: “We didn’t have the piper with us today, but if we did he would be playing a bit of a lament.” Indeed, it was a sad state of affairs alright, never mind the reality that Ireland were unable to totally commit due to waiting on the outcome of political elections. Irish politicians just could not come to terms with building a multi-million-euro stadium, as they believed there was an economic slump in the Celtic Tiger.
Switzerland and Austria were quick to point out the lack of facilities in Ireland while they canvassed their state-of-the-art concepts for soccer, something the Irish need to take a serious look at. Details were what the new hosts said the Celtic bid lacked. While Switzerland and Austria had a commitment of euro 45 million, the Celtic bid had no financial backing whatsoever. Dutch FA secretary Harry Been summed up what it takes for a country to move ahead with hosting world scale tournaments when he said, “Along with financial assistance from the government, all it takes is ambition, planning and ability.” Been concluded, “The impact on the country financially and socially can be enormous.”
Ireland’s 2002 international soccer scene despite being involved on and off the field in World Cup and European competition has been a whoville wonderment, to say the least. In the end it comes as no surprise that politics got in the way both on and off the field. How on earth are the Irish going to become a global powerhouse when they can’t even get it right on the domestic scene?
In March, before the international debacles of the ’02 summer, the Eircom title ambitions of St. Patrick’s Athletic were taken away by League chiefs. A 15-point penalty was imposed on Pats for playing Charles Mbabazi Livingstone as an unregistered player in the first five games of the season. The mighty chiefs were unable to make a ruling until they had no choice after Pats beat Shamrock Rovers 1-nil at Richmond Park. It meant Pats, on 61 points, went from second place in the league to mid-table. Merrion Square, the league’s office, were at it again. It was embarrassing for all concerned as Pats began their appeal to no avail. A letter from FIFA with proof that Livingstone was indeed registered with Pat’s alongside a copy of the player’s contract did not reflect the records at the Square. The chiefs did not receive his registration form, so a clerical error was what it was put down to.
Playing unregistered players seemed to be a regular occurrence in the league and other teams, such as Waterford United, had points deducted. Pat’s had a previous 9 points taken away but won them back when they went to arbitration. But this time around there was no joy for the Saints, even with all the registration inconsistencies, amnesty was not granted, Shelbourne eventually won the league. Some statements were issued from Eircom managers claiming the league was, “inconsistent, destroyed and too elitist.”
Damien Richardson of Shamrock Rovers made sense of it all when he said, “Cleansing has to happen” in the sport. Ambition may clean up the future of Irish soccer both home and abroad with hopefully a state-of-the-art soccer stadium on the horizon in the 21st century.