The Underdog Bites Back

1988, 1990, 1994, 2002, 2009, 2015, 2016

Years remembered by Irish soccer fans for memorable performances against highly fancied opposition. Epic matches when the Irish soccer team overcame adversity, (in one form or another) and upset the preverbal applecart. In each of these matches, ‘Our Boys in Green’ provided the watching public with a degree of pride which no other sporting team (or individual) can. They united the peoples throughout the land, city dwellers, rural folk, even bridging the class divides that exist in our society. Brought the country to a standstill. But how did they do this? What was the formula?

Ireland Euro 2016

The formula is inherent in our DNA, the Irish race. We are the little guy, the underdog. We thrive on challenges, especially ones that seem ‘unlikely’ to be successful. We have an inherent (yet buried deep) resolve and responsibility.

We need a little sprinkling of negativity, for example, from the ‘nay-sayers’ in the media who are only too willing to talk down our chances. This magical dust of negativity provides the fuse. The ignition comes from the management team at the helm. (Think: Jack Charlton, Mick McCarthy). They provide the guttural spark which brings the best out of our players. This is why the Eyeballer believed we could do the ‘Italian Job’ last night.

Let’s be honest, we don’t have a squad of players with the calibre or the personalities of those in years past. There is no McGrath, Moran, Whelan, Keane (x2), Duff, Given (the youthful one!) nor Dunne. These guys were exceptional in mental toughness and the necessary playing skills of the trade. But what we do have within our present group is that ‘fighting Irish, togetherness, resolve and team-spirit as alluded to by Martin O’Neill in his post-match interview with RTE’s Tony O’ Donoghue. The core ingredients are there. Additionally, in our present management team, we have two personalities who are serious motivators. From the outside looking in, one could imagine they are a ‘good cop / bad cop’ double act. Two motivational technicians on parallel paths, but ‘when they get together, it’s murder!’ (to coin a phrase from an 80’s detective program). Their achievements through their careers in both playing the game and managing teams are to be respected.

Our Euro 2016 Championship tournament thus far has shown us what works and what doesn’t. It’s all to do with the team’s mind-set. Against Sweden, we came out of the traps (definitely no pun intended) at lightening pace, should have finished the half at least one up. Once we scored, early in the second half, we were jolted. It was almost as if we collectively said to ourselves: ‘Oh shit, we just scored!’ The Swedes stepped up and level, we came down gear (could only have been a degree of fear brought about through the chance of achieving success). In the end, a draw was a fair result. The Belgian match was a case in point. We simply didn’t know what to do against them. The Belgians had been so poor, we were very good, surely we were the favourites to get the win. Again, the mental blockage that is the fear of success seemed to scramble our squad’s (management and players) psyche. The defeat was humbling and embarrassing. We were then left with no option but to win our final game. It was black or white, do or die. This, my friends, is how we like it. This is the prime context.

In 2009 we were beaten (on aggregate) by the infamous handball by you know who. But the performance in Paris, which was an identical ‘sink or swim’ context, was exceptional. It was even more exceptional because it went against everything instilled in the team’s psyche by Trappatoni. Accounts suggest that the players took it upon themselves to neglect the Trappatoni ethos and ‘bring the Irishness’.

Trap tried to infuse the Italian mentality on the Irish spirit. It would never work. We laboured for many years under him, essentially fluking our way to The Euros in 2012 (held in Poland) when, placed in an excessively difficult group, we simply didn’t have the ‘spirit’ to do ourselves justice. Our spirit was suffocated under Trap’s leadership, almost extinguished.

The combination of the uncomplicated context for the game last night and having two Irishmen at the helm, leading ‘Our Boys in Green’ is the reason why we (a) stood a chance and (b) ultimately succeeded. Coupled with our inherent team-spirit and resolve, the perfect storm was provided. We have our soccer mojo back. It feels great! The clouds have lifted.

The game against France next Sunday, should not be heralded as a ‘revenge’ mission. Revenge, is not in our DNA. We need to focus on what gets the best out of us. Irishness. Simple, effective, passionate, aggressive, controlled football.
Being the underdog.

‘The underdog bites back’. And will do so again on Sunday. #COYBIG!


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