IN-NYC’s soccer team may have been unsuccessful against their opponents, most of whom were Breton, but the network clearly knew how to fill a room. Thirty minutes ahead of the 3 p.m. kickoff for the Ireland vs. France World Cup playoff game (8 p.m. in Dublin, the host city), seats were at a premium. Word had gotten out that this was the place to be.
James Kane and Richard Fitzpatrick, on an eight-day swing through New York and Las Vegas, prepared for the game with a meal with their wives. The two men, devoted Shamrock Rovers fans since the glory days of the 1950s and ’60s, had found the perfect spot and weren’t budging, but when the plates were cleared the two women gave way to younger fans and went shopping.
Dublin-born Manhattan resident Paul McDonagh found a seat early on and hoped he could keep one for his son. Luckily, Andrew McDonagh arrived in good time.
It was a global family affair, as the elder McDonagh was regularly updated via text about his cousin’s search in Beijing for a screen showing live soccer from Croke Park.
“He lives in Hong Kong and it’s never a problem there,” he said.
As the countdown began, few heads were turned towards screens showing the final stages of the Greece/Ukraine tie. Instead, more energy was given to ordering refreshment and nourishment from the heroic wait staff.
With the German ref about to blow the whistle, the Irish Rogue was packed with Irish, French and American bodies. The great majority among them were soon cheering wildly. The nimble-footed Damien Duff dispossessing a Frenchman with uncharacteristic aggression had set them off. It seemed to be a good omen. And so was the news that a screen had been located in Beijing.
The roof nearly lifted in the 27th minute when Liam Lawrence shot towards an open goal. About half of the crowd seemed to believe he’d scored, and the other half, this reporter included, saw it go wide.
Both groups were wrong and so was the ref. Everyone missed that the French goalie had deflected it behind for what should have been an Irish corner kick. Even with action replays, a few continued to believe that a goal had been scored and disallowed.
When, moments later, some drinks left a tray for the floor, there was no action replay to determine who was responsible, but all agreed no harm was done.
And none was done either in the first half at Croke Park. By that time, the IN-NYC’s Murphy had recovered from the trauma inflicted on the Irish at Sara Roosevelt Park in Chinatown. “We’ve played well,” he said, but doubted that the Irish could maintain the pace for the entire 90 minutes.
The commentator backed him up with a rare audible line over the noise: “It’s going to be a test of stamina as the game goes on.”
It was the French who went up a gear or two, and Nicolas Anelka’s deflected shot past Shay Given broke the deadlock. The French cheered in the Irish Rogue, while the Republic fans groaned. The dream of South Africa 2010 was slipping away.
McDonagh resorted to gallows humor, as the Irish typically do in a tight spot. “Now we have them were we want them,” he said.
His cousin’s reaction from China was a one-word text message: “Ugh.”
The Irish Rogue crowd would continue to roar “C’mon Ireland” with the same fervor in the last 18 minutes. Then it was over
And while shoves and insults were exchanged in the center circle in Croke Park, things stayed mellow on 44th Street. The losing fans had a couple of more drinks, vowing to pray on Sunday.
“The Irish players gave it their all,” Kane said outside after the game. “But we’re limited, let’s be honest.”
“The French are very skillful,” Fitzpatrick agreed.