The boy has wisdom beyond his years. “You learn more about yourself in the tough times than you do in the good times,” says James McClean. Less a boy now at 27-years-old, arms inked akimbo with tattoos on either side, he still maintains the boyish innocence with which he made his name at the Brandywell in Derry City as a thin but steely winger in Northern Ireland all those years ago – a country which has suffered more blood-stained tough times than most people would care to remember.
Ireland has always had a challenging relationship with football and a laborious course of acceptance of it. Once encompassing of all that was alien and English, those who supported it, played it and defended its right of existence as a beautiful game were treated as betrayers of the Republic and the independence it had fought and spilt blood for over hundreds of years.
It was blatantly uncomfortable, but we simply could not take our eyes off our television screens. This was the battle that we had waited for, a moment in time for Irish football: David vs. Goliath, rebel against the man, justice at last standing up to fight against incompetent authority.
It is frightening the rate at which our childhood heroes are retiring from football – slowly descending away from the turf, slipping out from the present and into a deep-sea of nostalgia that is as lucid as it is warm in our abiding memories of them.
The art of diplomacy, it is said, is to recognise the beliefs, opinions and feelings of other people and to balance them accordingly with those of their opponents – breeding it itself an air of open communication based on mutual respect and rational understanding.
“There will be no past tense here,” Eamon Dunphy begins, as the mood turns sad and nostalgic. The date is 10 July 2016 and John Giles is appearing for the final time on Irish television’s state broadcaster RTÉ in his role as senior analyst for the station’s football coverage.
ONE HUNDRED and twenty five years ago a crowd of travelling men threaded aimlessly along the streets of Dublin city. Their wanderings led them in search of a suitable playing field for their proposed new football team. They would come to be recognised as the Gypsies on account of their expeditions, and were known to be equally valiant as they were bohemian in spirit.