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Playing the beautiful game

It might be an exaggeration to say that the whole recession was Trapattoni’s fault, but it certainly seems that way now, as we clamber out of the fiscal darkness and stagger towards the shopping malls. We are where we are. Again. When we were where we were, it wasn’t great, but where we are now is back to where we were before that.

I went into a petrol station recently and had to queue behind a line of hungry men wearing hard hats and builders’ dust. You can’t get parking outside a toy megastore, and restaurants ask you if you have a reservation. We have a Labour President in the park who acts as almost the sole conscience of the nation, and the soccer team is doing well.

But the health service has yet to find its Martin O’Neill. Dr Leo has decided that universal health insurance is no longer a runner. Fair enough, so. I wonder if he thinks that the new contract for GPs, the state of rural practice, free GP care and the trolley crises are also problems for ATE (the new body known as ‘After The Election’). If he does, it is not so much kicking a can down the road as wheeling the patient in the bed in the corridor out into the car park. Then Micheál Martin or Mary Lou can deal with the problem. The shinners are taking a special interest in the state of the emergency departments, which is also fair enough, as the IRA put so many in there over the years. One thing’s for sure: whoever is in power can be relied upon to make another hames of it if they listen to the professional civil servants and ignore the punters.

The health service is bogged down in its own inertia. Rural practice and medical education are in peril, the national libraries and their archives and the environment are all suffering. We can’t make the same mistakes again

I was in the Aviva Stadium the night Ireland beat Germany. You could not have met nicer people than the soccer supporters from both sides. It was everything anti-soccer people say soccer is not supposed to be — exciting, convivial and enthusiastic. A Tipperary man scored the winning goal. (We can beat Germany but we can’t beat Kilkenny.) It was as if the Trapattoni years had never happened. Trap, against all sense and advice, believed he knew in his heart the way to manage the team. Mary Harney, in much the same fashion, ignored the fact that Charlie McCreevy was investing heavily in the infrastructure of greyhound stadiums and might have been persuadable to build a few public hospital wings, if asked nicely. Instead she espoused a philosophy from the Reagan and Thatcher handbook, and Fianna Fáil, to their shame, let her at it.

When I was a student in Galway, Michael D Higgins went to all the soccer matches. He also went to poetry readings, industrial disputes, traveller camps, Saw Doctors gigs and walked the prom with giant Bernese Mountain dogs. He has a big heart. He also showed that you could be a socialist, an intellectual, an academic and an artist without any contradictions.

It is very easy to pigeon-hole a person. Bertie Ahern, for instance, is a Manchester United supporter. They were a team that seemed unbeatable once, and if you were with them it was great for you, and if you were not, they were very dangerous. Man United fell from grace when the old fox moved on, and their place was taken by a fairly dull team dressed in blue.

I live in Munster rugby country. Soccer is disliked by many. Others don’t like the GAA. It is easy to label rugby players as Ross O’Carroll Kelly-type yuppies, and soccer players as jackeens, and GAA men as culchies. This is lazy thinking. It is also lazy thinking to have one-note politicians. If you are for business, you are anti-green; if you are for the people, you are against all taxes. There seems to be no debate, no fairness, no compromise, and no appreciation of the bigger picture.

So what will we do going, as they say, forward? Have we any vision? Are we a country or an economy or a post-colonial mistake?

We beat Bosnia Herzegovina at soccer to reach the European Cup. It is a young country. We no longer have that excuse.

As we head into the centenary of 1916, we can wonder just what were the rebels thinking. The whole episode seems completely daft now, but you have to admit that they had some sort of vision beyond the greasy till. Unfortunately, all the good ones died and the gombeens took over.

We need people of vision to look over the horizon and beyond. The health service is bogged down in its own inertia. Rural practice and medical education are in peril, the national libraries and their archives and the environment are all suffering. We can’t make the same mistakes again. When they proposed cutting the funding to the arts during WWII, Churchill asked: “Then what are we fighting for?”

If we don’t learn to play the beautiful game, then the last few years of austerity will have been for nothing.

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