There will be 20,000 Irishmen and women arriving in Poland this week. Unfortunately only 11 will be allowed onto the pitch. Nevertheless, the presence of so many good-natured, thirsty football fans will add colour and humour to a football tournament that promises to be nothing short of spectacular.
Part of me envies these fans, the part which remembers the ritual of saving my shekels, prioritising Republic of Ireland away trips over conventional holidays and debating with friends whether Paul McGrath was actually the best central defender in the world.
Yet one of the downsides about growing old is the supposed need to grow up. These days my hair has thinned but my belly has not. The priority of a good restaurant over a good pub is a sign of approaching middle age. Yet, come 10 June, when Ireland play Croatia in Poznan, the child in me will return and only the darkest of hearts could not feel some kind of emotional attachment to the team representing their country, their sport.
That so many of these Irish players have come up the hard way, serving apprenticeships in their homeland (Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Stephen Ward, James McClean and David Forde) or the English lower leagues (Paul Green, Keiren Westwood, Keith Andrews, Sean St Ledger, Stephen Kelly and Jon Walters) has only served to deepen the communion between player and fan.
Long before earning the wages they do now, these guys played football for fun. When they were kids, they got changed at the side of roads and bettered themselves on public parks. For over half of them, there were times in their careers when they earned little more than the man on the street. All have suffered hardship or rejection at some point in their lives. Many of the obstacles we have been faced with, they too have had to surmount.
Yet here they are, once bit-part actors on football's world stage now in the spotlight. Only fantasists can expect them to go on a run that will take them through to July and a European final. And yet expectations are high, not so much that Croatia, Spain and Italy will be beaten, but simply that these men, in whom so many fans have invested so much faith and money to come and watch, will play with passion and panache. It's not too much to ask.
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