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Euro Diary

Sunday (Day 1) – Dublin to Poznan

The air hostess says that your seat has been double-booked, so you’ll have to move from seat 2A to 9A.  It’s a poor start.  (Get used to those.)  You know how Kevin Foley feels.  You wonder why the other person – you do need two people for a double-booking – can’t move on down to 9A, seeing as he or she isn’t here yet.

So there you are, sitting in 9A, minding your own business, when a cheer bellows forth (have we gone one-nil up?) to herald the arrival into the cabin of the artist formerly known as Michael D, now the artist formally known as Uachtaran na hEireann, with his entourage.  Michael D waves a little wave and the crowds cheer again.  Then sits down.  In seat 2A.  (You voted for him and everything.)

Two flights arrive into Poznan at the same time, the FR1006 from Dublin and the OU4436 from Zagreb, give or take a digit or two.  The Croatians are in full voice around baggage reclaim belt two as the Irish swarm around baggage reclaim belt one, like they will swarm around Luka Modric later on, no doubt, snuff out his creativity.  Seems to have worked with the baggage reclaim belt.  No matter, green jerseys lock arm-in-arm with blue-and-red-and-white jerseys on the motionless conveyer belts and trade traditional dances and songs.

The bags arrive.

Monday (Day 2) – Deflation

Nobody seems to be too sure what really happened last night.  Everything seemed to be going so well, the trams were full, the songs were good, 10 years on and we still all dreamed of a team of Gary Breens (all 22 of them this time, none of them sent home) and the much-lauded sea of green seemed to cover three quarters of Municipal Stadium.  Then Mario Mandzukic (that’s easy for you to say) stood up, slipped a little, stood up again, pressed the slow motion button and looped a looping loopy thing over the green wall, under the bar and inside the post.  We hadn’t even got onto the second verse of Come On You Boys In Green.

There is a mixture of bewilderment and deflation and incredulity and sore-headedness in the Poznan air this morning, that maybe the team was shown up, that maybe our players just aren’t good enough, that maybe all the luck was used up in getting to Poland in the first place, that a point against Croatia was surely a minimum requirement in the group of debt (sic.)

All of this is whirring around our heads when the Polish Garda steps out in front of our car on the main Poznan-to-Gdansk road hardly 10 minutes away from the centre of Poznan, not 1/25th of the way into our journey.  (Another poor start.)

“Documente,” is the only word that we understand as the verdict is that we were doing around 70km/h in what turns out to be a 50km/h zone.

Profuse apologies appear to be falling on deaf ears as the Garda opens the licence.  You can’t be certain, but a semblance of a smile appears to form just beneath his sunglasses as he notes the IRL on the licence.  3-1.  Very sad.  Soft Polish warning as he hands the licence back: on your way lads, and don’t sin againska.

Tuesday (Day 3) – Poles apart

The analysis/port mortem continues.  For starters, Andy Reid should have played in the centre of midfield.  Andy Reid, Andy Reid, not Andy Reid again, come on, enough of the Andy Reid.  Which is, of course, Italian for: Andy Reid, Andy Reid, not Andy Reid again, come on, enough of the Andy Reid.

The song tactics were all wrong as well.  We should never have started with Come On You Boys In Green, it left us far too exposed at the back.  We should have kicked off with a solid Fields Of Athenry.  Nobody sitting around the breakfast table can ever remember the opposition scoring while the ground hummed with the FOA.  Then we could have moved on to a slightly more adventurous You’ll Never Beat The Irish before finishing with the Sit Down, Stand Up, Shoes Off For The Boys In Green routine for the last 10 minutes if it remained scoreless.  We won’t make that mistake against Spain.

We’re supporting Poland this evening.  With 30,000 people shoe-horned into the field they call Fanzone, about 29,994 of them wearing red and white and shouting at a big screen that makes the one at The Curragh look like a 32-inch cathode ray tube, it is difficult not to get caught up in their general optimism and bon vivska.  Deflation when Russia score, elation when Jakub Blaszczykowski (again, easy for you to say, and no amount of tuition from the guy standing beside you will get you across the line, but we know him as the guy who takes the little kid’s hand in the McDonalds ad, and that’s fine for now) drives in an equaliser from the right.  Contender for goal of the tournament so far, up there with St Ledger’s, the one with the ‘d’ in which Camelot definitely won’t run.

Wednesday (Day 4) – Dream team

Why can’t we all dream of a team of Robbie Keanes instead of a team of Gary Breens?  The syllabic count and the rhyming scheme would be maintained, while at the same time the song would be brought into the second decade of the millennium.  Perhaps the cult-hero-value would be lost though.  That must be it, all about the cult-hero-value.

The songsters have been hard at work for the last 48 hours.  Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, we’ll beat Spain and Italy …  New challenge, new song, it’s good enough for release.  The Poles appear to have a similar one about beating the Czech Republic, so the camaraderie on Dlugi Targ goes up a notch.

And the people?  All sorts.  A Polish guy who worked in a bar on Ellis Quay 10 years ago, who went back to visit Irish friends in Dublin last year and didn’t like it because of the number of Poles there.  A group of Germans who didn’t fancy getting to Ukraine so came to Gdansk instead and who cheer loudly when the Germans score (twice) against The Netherlands.  A guy from South Africa who lived in Clonakilty, spent three years surfing in Donegal and who doesn’t have a ticket for the Spain game yet.  And of course, the Irish, millions of them, most of them into racing, they say.  Frankel and Black Caviar the popular Royal Ascot get-your-money-back-from-Poland double.

Thursday (Day 5) – Spain day

There’s a buzz around Dlugi Targ this morning that has been absent for the last two days.  The puncture-repair kit has been out, the deflation reversed, nothing like a couple of days to brush that old pessimism (not much call for it around here) out the door and get in some new-found brand spanking new optimism.  You’ll Never Beat The Irish.  We haven’t heard that one since Poznan.

The optimism feeds on itself and on the people who bring it and bear it.  We’re at our best when our backs are to the wall, they are saying.  (They would sing it as well if wall rhymed with Spanish net.)  We had terrible luck against Croatia, they are saying.  It’s a game of millimeters and the millimeters went against us: Shay Given’s finger tips, Shay Given’s post, Shay Given’s head.  Desperate luck altogether.

The Spanish will think they’ll beat us easily, two-nil, they are saying, maybe three.  That’s when we strike.  No matter that, on paper, Xavi/Alonso/Iniesta versus McGeady/Whelan/Andrews looks like a mis-match at which even the Spartans would have winced.  The game isn’t played on paper (and other clichés).

If teams lined out in direct proportion to the number of fans that followed them to the outskirts of Gdansk, Trapattoni would probably be able to field 13 or 14 players this evening against Del Bosque’s eight or maybe nine.  Alas, it’s the other way around on the pitch.  You would count the red shirts if they would just stand still for a second, stop buzzing around the placed like a swarm of red buzzy things with endless energy and magnets on their feet, but there is definitely more red than green on the pitch, they must have 12 or 13 at least, and you’re not sure if anyone goes off when Fabregas comes on.  (Who starts a game with a race-fit Fabregas on the bench?)

Four-nil, hard held, it could have been five or six or seven.  The Fields Of Athenry bellows around the stadium from the 85th minute (they know we’re four-nil down, right?) until the janitor turns off the floodlights and says come on lads have you no homes to go to.  Happy to be second best or just happy to be here?

Friday (Day 6) – Class tells

No matter how hard a handicapper works, he still won’t beat a Group class horse on his day.  Makes you realise though, once again, how we should appreciate Ireland’s position in the sport of horse racing.  If there was a Euro 2012 of racing, Ireland would be one of the seeds and would be one of the favourites to win it. Our players are among the best in the world at this sport.

You can sing that too.

© The Irish Field, 16th June 2012