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June 2019
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2012-07 Optimism versus Delusion

James column for the Sligo Weekender

Perhaps that all-too-familiar hackneyed, jaded and laboured soccer chant Youll NEVER beat the Irish! ought to be revised and reworked by substituting the word never with sometimes, or maybe, or often, or in the case of  Euro 2012 always?

When our First Eleven find themselves facing such world-class opponents as Croatia, Spain and Italy, who then proceed to collectively strike nine goals into the back of the Irish net, then surely its ok to admit that, well, were just not in the same class, are we? Of course things can change, new life can be breathed into our somewhat fatigued team, and new stars might be lurking in the shadows itching to hoist us to the next level, but for now on the international soccer scene our standard is simply not in the same league (pardon the pun). And I say that is ok. Werent we fantastic to even qualify for Euro 2012? Had we had Andorra or the Faroe Islands (or dare I say even the Netherlands this year) in our group, and not three of the worlds strongest sides, we may have come home with a little more than nul points and some acutely frayed egos.

Im all for positive thinking and goal-setting (in every sense), but there is a pointed difference between optimism and delusion.

We are a nation of not even 4 million people. The nations we were up against (for the most part) have ten times our population to choose from. Other counties boast illustrious club-names such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan and Juventus, and all are part of huge leagues within their countries, countries which live and breathe soccer, to say nothing of the astronomical (and downright disgraceful) transfer fees afforded to individual players. Yes we have leagues and divisions in Ireland too, of which our own Sligo Rovers frequently emerges triumphantly as the star team. Ireland also has a few good individual players, but are they of the calibre of Torres or Balotelli? Probably not. But again I say all of this is ok. We qualified, and ought to be proud of ourselves for that laudable feat.

And besides, we excel in other fields, literally. Had Ireland played Italy in rugby (not New Zealand), the outcome would have unquestionably been significantly different. Had Ireland fielded McIlroy, Harringron and McDowell in a golfing tournament against Italys (or even Spains) Top Three Golfers Im sure as a nation we would have emerged puff-chested, with heads held high. Our boxers perform impressively well internationally, and hopefully will do so again in London 2012. Im not a fan of boxing at any stretch of the imagination, as I think that sending the message abroad that we are a nation of fighters is not wholly positive (Im also strangely not into split lips, eye injuries, risking brain damage and that sorta thing), but nonetheless Im sure Ill be cheering Katie Taylor and her battling buddies all the way to the final bell, as they knock the bejaysus out of their opponents. Our sportsmen and women have performed well in track events also, as well as in showjumping and horse-racing. In the fields of arts, music, literature and film we boast many giants on the international scene  Joyce, Yeats, Shaw, Wilde, Liam Neeson, Neil Jordan, U2, The Chieftains, John McCormack - far too many to single out here. Ok, enough already.

Just as in school, children excel academically, in sports, or in the creative arts, surely it follows then that a nation will also excel in certain areas? As individuals most of us are aware of our limitations (or at least ought to be), so it is completely acceptable as a nation to also recognise our limitations. Come on, we were never going to win Euro 2012. We were never even going to progress past the first round, but we qualified and that is more than admirable.

One thing can definitely not be questioned, as a nation our support is second to none. Even in the face of multiple defeats full-throated renditions of The Fields of Athenry drowned out our rival supporters feebler efforts. Weve always proven ourselves to be pretty determined as a nation in the face of adversity. So as Grandstand singers and supporters  its true - Youll NEVER beat the Irish!.