Ireland – Euro 2012
What are the expectations for the team?
Modest. The consensus is that Ireland have to get something from the first match against Croatia. Nothing is expected from the Spain game except a brave but energy-sapping defeat. Italy are seen as vulnerable, not least because of the Trap factor. A quarter-final against England is a remote but tantalising possibility.
Is the coach popular?
Yes, by and large, despite some weird decisions. The reluctance to use James McClean and James McCarthy, and the outright shunning of Wes Hoolahan mystify fans. Most supporters are grateful to Trap for securing qualification after ten barren years, even if the spartan style of play has few takers. Other than one broadsheet columnist who attacks him every single Sunday on the flimsiest of pretexts, he enjoys a high standing with the football press.
Have any players appeared in TV commercials or other advertising?
At previous tournaments the players and manager Jack Charlton - especially Jack Charlton - endorsed everything from Shredded Wheat to luxury cars. This year there has been zilch so far, though that will change as the finals draw nearer. Damien Duff has appeared in many, many Lucozade ads over the years.
Which players are good interviewees and who are worst?
Richard Dunne recently caused a stir by complaining bitterly, with some justification, that the Ireland rugby team are treated like gods despite their failures, while the footballers are regarded as relative nobodies. Shay Given is always honest, if a little dour. Stephen Hunt shoots his mouth off on chat shows from time to time. Robbie Keane could not give a decent quote if his life depended on it.
Are there any players with unusual hobbies or business interests?
Hunt, Kevin Doyle and Shane Long are all hurling obsessives. They played the game to a good standard (Long is the only sportsman to have played both hurling and international football in Croke Park). Duff owns a property company, which will have taken a serious hiding in the wake of the Irish economy's disintegration.
Will there be any rehearsed goal celebrations?
Keane might once again dig out the cheesy bow and arrow that he wielded at the 2002 World Cup. He has more international goals than the rest of the squad put together, which is why it is a struggle to recall what any of their celebrations look like.
What will the media coverage be like?
RTE's coverage is likely to be more entertaining and more honest than its cross-channel opposite numbers. Moreover, there is a healthy awareness that the Ireland team are not the only show in town. But the long-running double act of John Giles and Eamon Dunphy is wearing a little bit thin. A graceful exit might not be far off for Giles (71) and the avuncular anchorman Bill O'Herlihy (73). Dunphy, for his part, is a mere whelp of 66.
Will there be many fans travelling to the finals?
Before Euro 88 and Italia 90, thousands of supporters dashed down to the local credit union to finance the trip abroad. This summer, with all but the very rich having been bled dry by the country's austerity measures, the turnout is likely to be well down on the 30,000 or so who went to West Germany in 1988. The credit union stampede is wryly referenced in the team's official song, The Rocky Road To Poland, a rework of an old tune by the Dubliners. Jonathan O'Brien
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