"What we must come to realise is that we did not come to France to take revenge – as is evident by our endearing behaviour thus far. We came to France to mark our names down in Irish sporting folklore like those who have gone before us..."
As Aristotle greatly put it; “hope is a waking dream” and that waking dream is all that Irish supporters had to go on Wednesday evening in Lille.
We went into this match with a sense of that underlying Irish optimism of “it’ll be grand”, whereas in reality the whole country might as well have been barefoot and walking on eggshells.
In recent years, we haven’t experienced this heightened elation that comes with the prospect of qualification to the next round.
Failure to qualify for five of the last six major tournaments (excluding France 2016) has led to the younger of us forgetting that romantic and magical view of Ireland created skillfully by Kavanagh, Heaney and Yeats.
Those of us who were born circa 1990, or after, have never fully experienced what it’s like to support a successful Irish football side who would, on their day, give any top side a game.
Of course there was the World Cup back in ’02 where Robbie Keane shocked the Germans with a late equaliser against the practically unbeatable Oliver Kahn. And the scalping of the top 10 Holland side by the midfield marvel that was Jason McAteer.
But for us 90’s kids, we were too young to appreciate the beheading of football’s greatest nations.
We were tucked quietly into bed dreaming of recreating those goals on our lunch break in school the next day while chants of Olé Olé Olé began to ring up and down Irish streets, empty cans kicked into any crevice that represented a goal.
And when our chance came, our coming of age as fans in Gdansk and Poznan four years ago there was nothing to be celebrated but for a Sean St. Ledger equaliser that was all in vein.
However, our contingent of loyal followers didn’t tread home with their tails between their legs as should have been expected, but rather jovially sang away their blues patiently awaiting their chance to be on the international stage again.
Trap was gone and with his replacement Martin O’Neill came a degree of belief and prosperity. And with Roy Keane, the Michael Collins of football history, second in command nobody would have dared say that there would be nothing but success coming our way.
But it wasn’t to appear in an instant. No, there was questions still be asked that had no definitive answers; the most concerning of which arose after their opening Euro qualifying 2-1 win over Georgia in Tsibili courtesy of a late Aiden McGeady strike.
Worrisome brows and question marks weren’t unjust considering the Georgians were one of the weaker teams in our group that contained world champions, Germany along with the Poles and Scots.
But that was to be but a jittery start and a 7-0 win over minnows Gibraltar and a salvaged late point in Germany gave us an underlying feeling that this was to be the start of something special.
Results came and went our way in true Irish fashion from there on in, but the hope still remained if not everyone expressed that view.
Like most other qualifying campaigns, we would have been happy with third and a play-off, but we had seen the desire from the players, the heart that they showed just so us fans would have a second chance at fleeting and tense emotions for 90 minutes or so.
We were used to doing things the hard way, and the wrong way for that matter, but in retrospect, the play-off game against the Bosnians was a breeze.
But for the elation of qualification it was uneventful, a dull affair that will go down in history alongside that of the two qualifying legs against the Iranians in 2001 as games that needed to be won and that was all there was to them.
But maybe that was because we had our eyes on the green hills of France. We didn’t want one day out, but three. Or maybe even four? Or just a piece of Irish footballing history to tell the grandkids as the past have done and will continue to do so.
And on Wednesday night it came. Almost four years to the day where we faced the same opposition – the resolute and impressive Italians – in a nothingness game; our fate in lacklustre Euros history was already consigned.
This was the opposite though; we had craved it for all those years. The new feeling of expectation, anxiousness and potential despair.
For ninety minutes we hoped we would feel more alive and invigorated than ever before.
We screamed. We roared. We cursed at the TV. But all that willful energy was worth it when the final whistle sounded and little Robbie Brady’s header was the difference between us heading home or onto Lyon.
Porter was drank, songs were sang and the young Irish were happy and relieved at their now precious memory.
But before we have a chance to drown the shamrock altogether, it needs to be kept afloat as all things are not over yet.
And now in this lull period where we can regain strength, our beloved foes and gracious hosts France await on us cautiously.
Old scores do need to be settled. It is hard not to forget about the events that took place in Paris under Trap’s reign.
An uncharacteristic dominant away performance, by the standards we had come to expect, at the time, snatched away in the most literal sense by one of football’s most loved characters, Thierry Henry.
But what we must come to realise is that we did not come to France to take revenge – as is evident by our endearing behaviour thus far.
We came to France to mark our names down in Irish sporting folklore like those who have gone before us, not to mention those to come.
We’ve been in this hopeful waking dream all of our lives, gone through the motions and emotions and now we’re here.
The knockout stages – the pinnacle of tournament football – where one mistake could leave a nation in tears while anything else leaves us holding our breaths.