Unless you've recently rocketed in from another planet, you'll be aware of the current state of financial and economic crisis in which Ireland finds itself. For the past two years all we've heard is 'credit crunch this', 'credit crunch that'. Then there was the whole banking crisis, the government stepping in to guarantee depositors, and the nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank. Back in November the Irish bailout was the hot topic across the world (it seemed to be all that I heard about in Ethiopia), and the EU/IMF deal is still making news headlines. With taxes and unemployment on the rise, everyone's complaining about having to emigrate to find employment (last I checked going to Oz to work was the cool thing to do). Then, the government fell, and for the past 4 weeks all we've heard about is the election, and how Fine Gael are going to put things right again. As if Ireland isn't enough of an international laughing stock, Jedward have been selected to represent us at the Eurovision. But today, as Fine Gael and Labour are deep in coalition talks, the main headlines drastically changed. News from Bangalore of a certain shock sporting result has got the nation talking, in only a way that Ireland's participation in a World Cup can.
I'm too young to remember Ireland's qualification for Euro'88, but I do know that their defeat of England at those championships was one of the great moments in Irish History. And I do remember learning shortly before Italia'90 that soccer was played with a round ball, which the players couldn't handle. The following year, during the 1991 Rugby World Cup I was finally able to distinguish it from rugby, the game that was played with the oval ball. Over the course of the Italian World Cup I, like the vast majority of Ireland, learned about throw-ins, corners, penalty shoot-outs, and the sheer heart-racing excitement of following a national team.
In a book entitled Feckers: 50 People who Fecked up Ireland, John Waters examines 50 influiental Irish people and details how they have each contributed to Ireland's perceived downfall. From DeVelara, to Bono and from Charles J Haughey to Louis Walsh, the rich and famous are each tried for their part in Ireland's demise. Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen are implicated in the dying stages, and the final culprit is not an Irish man, but a French one. As the Hand of God II ended Ireland's hopes of another World Cup trip, so too it killed any sense of moral and pride left in this country of 'jump on the Ireland-success-at-a-world-cup bandwaggon' sportsfans.
While understanding the off-side rule in football gives me a great headstart over most females in a football conversation, any knowledge of cricket whatsoever marks me as a near expert among the Irish. And so, while everyone is excited about Ireland's dramatic and historic win over England in the Cricket World Cup today, it is the fact that we got one over on the old enemy, rather than the greatness of the achievement itself, that has the nation talking. Wickets, overs and innings mean very little, not only to the general Irish population, but to most of the sporting media too. In turth, had I not been living in England during the last World Cup, I would be as lost as the rest of them. Latith Malinga's historic 4 wickets from 4 balls in the West Indies made me want to understand this game, and 2,000 questions later I think Chris, my former landlord and housemate, has just about thought me the basics. In sport, knowledge truly does feel like power. In her excellent book, Get Her off the Pitch, Lynne Truss talks about the joy she felt when she was first able to decipher Match of the Day chat and determine who was playing who and where from club nicknames, grounds and managers. Today I got that same buzz from being one of the few to understand what 'Ireland 329-7 (49.1) bt England 327-8 (50 ovs) by three wickets' actually means!
Not only is the win over England a significant result, but the manner in which it was achieved and the never-say-die attitude of the Irish suggests that, while Thierry Henry put the final nail in Ireland's coffin, this beast may well have been burried alive. After the wicket of captain Will Porterfield was taken on the very first ball of the innings, and given that nobody has ever successfully chased a target of 328, an Irish win didn't look bleak; it looked impossible. During play, bookies were offering 400:1* for Ireland to win (of course, Ireland being the betting nation that it is, someone had €25 on at that rate), but with Ireland's Kevin O'Brien achieving the quickest century in World Cup history (50 balls), and a determined display by the rest of the team, Ireland were in with a shout. With 5 balls remaining, Ireland achieved their target, and sent Irish sports journalists, news reporters and radio deejays running straight to wikipedia to try and workout what it all means. Thank goodness Duckworth-Lewis didn't have to come into play!
When asked, many have proposed Stuttgart, June 12th 1988, as the birth date of the Celtic Tiger. If that be so, mark Bangalore, today, March 2nd 2011, as the day that the ageing feline gave birth to cubs. I have no idea whether or not they should burn the bondholders, or even what that means, but I do know that today the Irish public found a new bandwaggon to jump on!