It has been a difficult few months for any of us who follow the boys in green.
If the punch in the gut equaliser from Italy in Croke Park was the injury then the Henry handball in Paris was the insult.
For those of you who follow the Republic of Ireland then you’ll know about that sense of injustice.
It’s still there.
It just is.
So it was that last night that we started to move on.
Time to begin again.
The national team took to the field of play to take on Brazil in the Emirates stadium in a friendly match.
At times it sounded more like the crowd you would get at a women’s match.
The noise from the crowd was decidedly high pitched.
Thousands of Brazilian girls screamed in adoration as their heartthrob Kaka every time he touched the ball.
A largely male crowd will growl in anticipation as the play approaches a critical juncture. Or they will bark in collective anger if one of their guys is fouled.
The oestrogen-fuelled crowd at the Emirates had a different take on things.
For these very fetching soccer fans their “Joga Bonito” was all about Real Madrid’s playmaker with the matinee idol looks.
All Kaka needed to do was to be on the ball for a second anywhere on the field of play for his female following to be convulsed in screams of adoration.
As for the rest of his colleagues it was business as usual.
The boys in the canary yellow shirts romanced the ball across the turf at every opportunity. This was soccer with a smile on its face.
For the first half the Irish were, well Irish, we were dogged and determined. Only a cruel own goal a few minutes before the interval saw the Brazilians leave the field at halftime one nil up.
The second half say the South Americans ease up the gears.
Their second goal was pure samba.
It is why we love the game and why most of us love Brazil-even when they’re scoring against us.
Before that happened something took place that caused me a smile of satisfaction.
With 69 minutes played young James McCarthy received one of the louder Irish cheers on the night when he was summoned for an international debut in place of the tiring Liam Lawrence. Slotting in on the right side of midfield he didn’t look out of place.
After the game was over I sent a text to a senior club official at James’ first professional club-Hamilton Academical. The small west of Scotland club is where the lad was developed as a player. It was only right and fair to acknowledge what they had done for James and, now, for Irish soccer. It didn’t surprise me to learn from m the club official that he had spoken to James twice in the last couple of days. That is the kind of lad James is.
I had met this club official and young James on the same day in October 2008.
at new Douglas Park after he had endured a solid 45 minutes of racist abuse as he played towards the St.Mirren goal.
I sat among the St.Mirren crowd that day. The abuse was undeniable in its character and clearly audible.
Despite that it didn’t make it into any match report the following day.
Only the local paper-the Hamilton advertiser had a reporter there (Andy McGilvray) who didn’t have hearing problems.
Almost exactly a year later I interviewed James McCarthy after he had played in the green of Ireland at U 21 level against Georgia. That night in Shamrock Rover’s stadium in Tallaght it was clear that he had grown a bit in the year since I had first seen him. I also met with his mother and his sister that night.
James’ mother was incensed about the abuse that her teenage son had taken from soccer crowds in Scotland. She was happy that he now was playing in England where he was not a target for racists.
It was self evident that this young man wanted to play for Ireland and he had a strong Irish heritage both sides of his family.
The genealogy was strongest on his mother’s side James having a Donegal born grandparent.
I asked him that night in Tallaght what was it like to stand for Amhran na BhFiann facing the tricolour.
The west of Scotland lad was straight as an arrow.
“Brilliant. Really brilliant!”
As we say here in Ireland this lad is “one of our own.”
Back in January this year there was some speculation-and is all that it was- that James was about to reconsider his soccer nationality.
At the time this “story” broke I spoke with people inside the FAI (they were mystified).
A source inside the FAI told me that Trappatonni had been alerted to this story and would phone James immediately.
The same day I called the McCarthy household in Scotland and spoke with James’ father Willie.
I haven’t met James’ father Willie, but I know if I did I would like him.
After that conversation I was fully convinced that James was fully committed to the cause of Ireland.
However until James had played a game for the full international side then the Scots could have some hope.
Not any more.
Last night the issue was finally put to bed.
As far as FIFA is concerned James McCarthy is Irish.
Sadly, in the land of his birth that emotional attachment to Ireland is still considered something of a social crime.
I’m glad that he now plays in England where his soccer nationality isn’t an issue for anyone. Had he remained in Scotland the abuse would have continued.
It isn’t the fact that he isn’t playing for Scotland it is his country of choice.
That tells me that young James made the correct decision.
Just as I know I made the correct choice for my own midfield trio as they grow in a country where having an Irish name isn’t a No No.
James McCarthy’s “crime” was not “turning his back on Scotland” rather it was his country of choice.
This is the same choice made by, among others, Ray Houghton, Tommy Coyne and Aidan McGeady.
Across the soccer world it doesn’t raise an eyebrow for a player to declare for his country of ethnic origin rather than his country of birth.
Diomansy Camara is French born, but the Parisian plays for Senegal. Madjid Bougherra is French born, but plays for Algeria. This is their right and, I’m sure, that in civilised France there is no issue that they declared for their country of ethnic origin rather than the country of their birth. Bougherra qualifies to play for Algeria by dint of one Algerian born grandparent. These are the same qualification rules that allow Aidan McGeady and James McCarthy to play for Ireland.
In England many young men have declared to play for their emotional home rather than the country of their birth.
Here are a few:
Emmerson Boyce - London – Barbados (Wigan Athletic)
Jason Roberts (MBE) – London – Grenada (Blackburn Rovers)
Jamal Ryce – London – Jamaica (Bristol City)
English crowds did not berate any of these players for being “traitors to England.”
I have yet to hear of any English born afro-Caribbean player being subjected to racist abuse because he “turned his back on England.”
As I write this I am learning that Jamie O’Hara of Spurs (currently on loan at Portsmouth) has intimated that he wishes to declare for the Republic of Ireland. The young midfielder is English born and once togged out for England U21, but did not take the field of play. Now the FAI is merely waiting for paperwork to clear
I am sure if he does play for Ireland then crowds in England will not subject him to the treatment that Aidan McGeady and James McCarthy have had to endure in Scotland.
Grown up societies do not behave in such a fashion.
Sadly only in the Scotland of many cultures does it remain a problem to be proud of an Irish heritage.