JULY 2002
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An Ireland Fan Shows His Colors

From Irish Echo
June 5-11, 2002
By Stephen McKinley

An exultant Mick McCarthy praised the Irish team for their 1-1 draw with Germany on Wednesday.

"It's a brilliant result. We're in with a chance," McCarthy told reporters. "We battered them and gave Germany a good doing actually."

In the game's dying minutes, Robbie Keene fired the ball past Germany keeper Oliver Kahn, to equalize. Keane picked the ball up from a Niall Quinn pass, scored, and sent Ireland closer to qualifying for the second round.

Next Tuesday Ireland faces Saudi Arabia, which has been predicted as an easy win. Undoubtedly, McCarthy and his men will not be taking any chances

McCarthy, praised for his half-time pep talk during the game with Cameroon, seems to have worked something of the same magic in this game.

"I said to them at half-time 'don't come off here beating them at football and lose – come off having got a result,'" McCarthy said.

Striker Damien Duff attributed the game's great finish to substitute Niall Quinn, who came on in the second half, and set up the Keane goal: "when Quinny came on he gave us something different. We thoroughly deserved a draw and could have even won the game," said Duff.

Ireland v. Cameroon: The New York Fans Celebrate

Kickoff. All over the world, the Irish held their breath. The moment had arrived.

We had been waiting for this for weeks now, perhaps even months -- Ireland's first game in the World Cup of 2002.

The suspense was bad enough, never mind the desire to see the boys do well, perhaps, even, if we dreamed a little, to win.

Then had come last week's torture, the Keane-McCarthy crisis, with the player everyone said was the team's star, sent home in disgrace by the manager everyone said was the team's anchor.

"Whither Irish loyalties?" commentators asked, as everyone struggled to figure out who was right and who was wrong, and did it matter?

Now, the time for such chat was over. It was time to pull out one's green jersey, if you had one, and get ready to cheer until you were hoarse. Here we were in bars and homes all over the world, no doubt in 24 time zones, and the green shirts of Ireland were marching on to the pitch. Opposing Ireland was a potentially deadly adversary: the Cameroon team, champions of Africa.

For fans in the New York area, there was the added dilemma of the kickoff time. With the game scheduled for 2:30 a.m., the question was whether to stay up all Friday evening or wake up for the game. Most people seemed to have taken the former route, and had stayed in the bars. (Naturally, the bars kept the 4 a.m. last-orders liquor law strictly enforced.)

"We're sort of just here drinking," said a woman called Heather, who said she was from California. They were off: on the big screen, the game went into play.

The teams ranged fluidly across the sunlit pitch on the big screen, long passes, nippy intercepts and sharp turns keeping all eyes on the game as the first few minutes ticked by. A shaven-headed barman suddenly lunged through the crowd. His eagle eyes had spotted the beginnings of a fight. One person was ejected from the bar and the fans returned to eyeing the unfolding play.

"Come on! Come on!" -- oblivious to the cheers of the Irish crowds across the world, Damien Duff in the No. 9 shirt, his shoulders already heaving with exertion, shoved roughly past a Cameroon player. The commentary here was in Spanish, but that didn't matter to the crowd. It was all too easy to follow the action on the screen and draw one's own conclusions.

"Oh no!" they gasped as a tussle erupted dangerously close to the Irish goalmouth.

"It's a very mixed game," said Caolon, from County Armagh, with almost no enthusiasm. "Cameroon have had more chances than we have."

The clock on screen showed 26:45, as the Irish goalie made a decent save. The Irish fans in the stadium were singing: "Are you watching, Roy Keane?" Keane was clearly no favorite there.

Next to Caolan, a young man was already slumped on the bench, eyes almost closing. In the corner, a couple kissed passionately. There was enthusiasm in this bar, but it seemed subdued, as lacking in inspiration as the Irish game so far.

At 30 minutes, a tense moment came: Jason McAteer was shown the yellow card for pulling back Salomon Olembe. But relief -- the resulting free kick was headed away by Gary Breen.

"They're not attacking. It's a slack game so far," said Patrick Flynn, who shook his head anxiously.

As if to prove him right, the worst fears came true: with an elegant turn, Cameroon's Patrick Mboma flicked the ball into the left corner of the Irish goal. Thirty-nine minutes.

"No!" screamed the crowd, but it was too late. "G-o-o-o-o-al!" roared the Spanish commentator, stretching out the word for so long that the Irish crowd started to give him a strongly worded order to shut up.

The face of an Ireland player filled the screen, angry, frustrated, his prominent cheekbones casting shadows on his face in the strong sunlight: Matt Holland. The cameras cut to the Cameroon supporters, dancing, delighted, singing, all on their feet. The Irish were not happy. Heads were shaking. Glasses were refilled. Cigarettes sparked alight. Ashtrays overflowed.

"See this shirt?" an Irish fan said of his official shirt. "It cost me euro 60. Can you believe it?" It seemed that at halftime, the fans were losing interest. There was no arguing with the scoreline as the screen faded into Spanish commercials: "Irlanda 0, Camerun 1."

A few blocks away, patrons spilled out on to the sidewalk of another New York watering hold. A woman was trying to make her way past, and then stopped, attracted by the huge crowd of supporters. Inside it was extremely difficult to move

"Who is winning?" she asked. Several people explained to her the lackluster situation that the Irish found themselves in. Further inside the bar, there was an unusual sight: an Englishman called Richard Adams had darkened the doors of an Irish bar.

And who, exactly, was he supporting? The answer was diplomatic: "I am supporting Ireland and England until such time as a conflict of interest arises," he said, just as the crowd was breaking into a rousing chorus of the football anthem, "You'll never walk alone."

"Here's to Gerry and the Pacemakers," yelled a fan as the chorus came to an end. A row of bleary eyes stared across the bar, waiting to be served. Up the bar stood 32 empty pint glasses, waiting for the sink.

"I'd be happy enough with a draw," said a fan, Michael, from Donegal. "It's early days yet, early days," he said hopefully. The jukebox burst into tune with "The Fields of Athenry," and the loyal Irish supporters mouthed the words.

"Nothing matters, Mary, when you're free . . . " A long, long line stretched toward the restrooms.

"It's bad luck to be up against Cameroon," said Sean O'Rourke, who was gloomily predicting a loss to his friend in the line.

Strangely, among these fans there was little talk of Roy Keane. Occasionally, the TV cameras had panned across an Irish player's back to reveal the surreal sight of the name "R. Keane" -- but that was Robbie, not Roy. There was no doubt that whatever the outcome of the game, Keane's fate was sealed. All one had to do was ask.

"He went home and deserted us," said one man. "He can't win. If we lose, then everyone will blame him, and if we win, everyone will say, 'Well, we can do it without him.' "

His friend agreed: "He gets paid $12 million to show up in the morning. It's his job. And he doesn't show up? That's just not right."

It was time to do battle once again. Outside the bar, an Asian television crew prepared to do a news piece on the 2002 World Cup phenomenon -- appropriate roars and yells from the bar greeted the return of Ireland to the pitch. On the sidelines, a shock of gray hair appeared, the instantly identifiable face of Mick McCarthy. His face was grim, determined -- up went the cry, "go, Mick!"

"Do they like him?" asked the woman at the door, who had said she was faint and needed water, but actually looked more like she wanted to take in some of the craic.

"It's complicated," someone told her.

In this bar, the staff had secured English language commentary from a Canadian channel. The announcer's clipped accent sounded odd as he repeatedly referred to "the Republic of Ireland."

They were playing once again, the screen showing a pulled-back shot of the pitch, the players running dots of green and red across the sunny pitch. Ireland were playing with more energy.

"That's more like it," said Danny, a Belfast man. He nodded across at another rare site in this Irish bar, a man wearing an England shirt. He said he was Kisa, from Zaire, and yes, he supported England. The Irish supporters around him rolled their eyes in disgust. The game went on, and Ireland was clearly a more spirited side than before.

Suddenly, there it was: Matt Holland's long, low shot headed into the net and the bar, every bar, everywhere, erupted. Ireland, one, Cameroon, 1-all that had to be done now was to win.

Cheers went on and on, it seemed for minutes.

Avril Friel and Oona Deeney, both from Donegal, came slinking back from the restrooms.

"We were in the restroom when they scored," said Friel above the roars. "I can't believe it. We missed the goal."

"We'll all be doing impressions of Don Corleone in the morning, we're going to be so hoarse," said Liam, a Derryman. Now it was time to win, or at least hold the Cameroons to a draw.

Eventually, everyone must have gone home, tired and happy. In Taylor's Hall in Sunnyside, Queens, Tara McCarty Durkin said that the crowds in the bar had been alternating pints of beer with mugs of coffee, in an effort to stay alert for the game.

After the Holland goal, there was no need for the coffee.

"The first half was pretty quiet, I think people were transitioning from the night out to watching the match," she said. "After the goal, it just exploded."

Tired and happy, she went home after the game.

"About half 6, it was getting light outside," she said. "I could hear people going home, walking down my street, Irish accents, just talking about the game."

Ireland's next game sees the team face Germany, a menacing adversary, this time at 7:30 a.m.

By then, Friday's late, late night will have been slept away, and the hoarse voices will be back to cheering form. Whatever the outcome, Ireland's fans will cheer them on. That is what makes the beautiful game so beautiful.

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