FORGET PARIS? How could we?
For the past two years, there has been something irrepressible about the memory of that November night in the Stade de France; the hope and the heartbreak; the unforgettable pain that comes with the knowledge that you have been cruelly wronged.
Giovanni Trapattoni has always insisted that football is no game for looking back in anger, but one which is better suited to working towards the future with optimism.
And now for the first time in 10 years, Ireland and its ever-swelling ranks of football enthusiasts have a reason to believe again.
The Republic of Ireland’s return from the international wilderness was all but secured with Friday’s 4-0 win in Tallinn, yet we had to wait until shortly after 9.30pm this evening for the moment of finality and certainty which we all so desperately craved .
The journey to that point had been eased by Stephen Ward’s opportunistic opener in the 31st minute, a final blow to the Estonian dreams which rendered Shay Given’s blunder and Konstantin Vassiljev’s second-half equaliser academic, allowing the Aviva Stadium’s capacity crowd to continue their party without interruption.
Bjorn Kuipers’ final whistle sent a nation into raptures. And standing at the centre of it all was one immensely proud Italian.
“I understand what Irish people wish for, what Irish people dream for,” Trapattoni said afterwards. “I’m happy for the people, I’m happy for the supporters.”
In almost 40 years of management, the 72-year-old has had plenty of reason to celebrate, but soaking up the post-qualification lap of honour this time around was particularly special.
Without being arrogant, I have had many of these in my life. But every new one is important, because it is different to the others. The others, you forget.
“It’s important. It’s a new enthusiasm, it’s new in my life, so it’s important to me.”
Important also to the players, all of whom placed their trust in the manager and his experience of the game. It was a night never to be forgotten by them, the first time that Ireland secured qualification for a major tournament on home soil.
“I give them all the congratulations because yesterday I said to them only a sentence,” Trapattoni revealed.
“‘Do not underestimate our opponents because they are not the team which lost in Estonia. I ask of you only 100% commitment because this game, this second 90 minutes, is not won.’
They deserve to drink beer tonight, but it is better that I don’t see it.
And what about next year, presuming Trapattoni and assistant Marco Tardelli are the ones chosen to lead us on our odyssey to Poland and Ukraine? Does the man who landed on these shores three years ago singing the praises of Greece’s victory at Euro 2004 genuinely believe that Ireland can emulate that?
“Never say never.”
“I hope we have no injuries and no suspensions. We have good second options, but it is important also to have the basic team. With this, why not?
Now we have discovered Cox, we have discovered Walters, we have Robbie, we have Shane Long to come back. Why not?
And so we wait for December’s draw with more than the usual passing interest and look forward to next summer with hope in our hearts.
Forget Paris? At last, we finally can.