AS the football European Championship plays out and we realise just how good it would have been to have been there we can take stock.
It was only in 1988 that we first went to the Euros.
Since then we’ve been to our first ever World Cup and two more after.
Two more further Euros too, though none to compare to the England-beating first one.
We are new to this going to international football events business.
Still, the Ireland of 1988 and the Ireland of 2021 are very, very different places. Our international football team can show us this.
As derided as the granny rule was by those too ignorant to know the nature of Irish society, the 1988 team was truly representative of the Irish nation.
That is, it was made up of the Irish born and those born in Britain to Irish parents or grandparents.
They may have sneered but we cheered and we knew who we were.
The Ireland 2021 team is different. The same but different. It is different but it is still a true reflection of the Irish nation.
Far more, for instance, than the media-loved Irish rugby team, where Kiwis or South Africans happily tog out in green.
Sorry, they’re not Irish, they’re just working here before returning home.
The Irish football team, by contrast, now consists, as before, of those born here in Ireland and those born abroad of Irish parentage.
What has changed, though, is that those born here have a heritage that is more mixed than just Cavan and Clare.
Now it is more Navan and Nigeria. In the last get-together for the Irish team there were four players of African descent in the squad.
If you want to know how Irish those lads might be you should perhaps talk to Chiedozie Ogbene, the only one of the four not born in Ireland, about his time as a youngster playing GAA for Nemo Rangers.
As much as Seamus Coleman they are the face of, not just Irish football, but Irish society.
How fitting then that one of the first things this new squad had to face on the international stage was booing at their taking the knee.
The Hungarian crowd who did so are representative of a reactionary government severely criticised by the EU and a host of human rights bodies. What finer example of bright, hopeful, Ireland could there have been than that team making that gesture in front of that crowd?
Indeed, it is only the likes of Mattie McGrath TD who praise the likes of Hungary and we all know the likes of Mattie.
The kind who will only accept you are Irish if you can trace yourself through four generations in a west Tipperary townland.
Or those like John Waters, who recently proclaimed of Leo Varadkar, who was born in the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin to a Dungarvan mother and a father from Mumbai in India, ‘he is not Irish. He’s an Indian. He has no love for Ireland whatsoever, he shouldn’t be here, well, maybe working on the buses or something.’
And at this point Gemma O’Doherty intervenes and says ‘in an Indian restaurant, John, that’s the only place he should be working.’
Look up the online broadcast. It is all there on record.
And to think that John Waters was once a respected journalist writing for The Irish Times and Gemma O’Doherty for The Irish Independent.
Even Sinead O’Connor, who has a had a child with John Waters, has called for him to be prosecuted for inciting racism.
What happened to them I wonder? Is it that Ireland changed and they just couldn’t cope with it? Or was the spite and the bile always there?
To go from writing columns for Ireland’s leading newspapers to appearing on amateur broadcasts in the dark corners of the internet is quite a fall.
Though now that GB News has launched they might yet have a future.
Personally, I’d much rather throw my lot in with the Nemo Rangers man Ogbene who’s classy response to the Hungarian crowd was “I was hoping to come on and just score in front of their fans. Maybe it was best it didn’t happen as I might have let my emotions get the better of with me with any sort of celebration I would have done”.
A Cork man sticking it to a crowd of baying racists would have been just the job.
Somehow, I think in the future it will be.