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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019

'Sitting on the promenade I allowed myself to think, "this could be us" - except it's not'

As Ireland’s conquerors Germany prepare for their second Group G game, Mikey Stafford pens a requiem for a Midwinter Night’s Dream.

Costa Rica have become one of the World Cup's feel-good stories while Ireland are sitting at home.
Costa Rica have become one of the World Cup's feel-good stories while Ireland are sitting at home.
Image: Adam Davy

Mikey Stafford reports for from Fortaleza

‘TWAS ALL JUST a Midwinter Night’s Dream. Sitting on the promenade in Fortaleza opposite a man wearing an Ireland jersey with Marc Wilson’s name on it I allowed myself to think, “this could be us.”

Except he was a German called Marcus, here to support the team that beat us 9-1 on aggregate in qualification for the World Cup.

This could be Irish fans wandering through the stalls of religious curios and various traditional Ceara arts and crafts, except we did not have the craft to beat anyone but Kazakhstan and the Faroe Islands in 10 qualifying matches.

This could be my pasty compatriots ill-advisedly challenging the locals to a friendly night-time game of foot volleyball, except we could not put up a significant challenge to Austria and Sweden, home or away.

This could be Irish journalists asking our players to comment on the 12,000 tickets sold for tonight’s Group G clash with Ghana, except our fans have nothing more to look forward to than an Aviva Stadium friendly against Oman before qualification for Euro 2016 kicks off in Georgia.

This could be our manager warning against complacency after an 4-0 win over Portugal in our opening game, except we were the pre-tournament punching bag Ronaldo and co put five past in Philadelphia.

This could be our pre-match press conference veering into lazy stereotypes as players and manager alike describe their African opponents as big, strong athletes, except our last competitive fixture against a CAF opponent was a 1-1 draw with Cameroon at the 2002 World Cup, 12 years ago.

Brazil Soccer WCup Germany Ghana German coach Jogi Löw checks up in Lukas Podolski during training in Fortaleza on Friday. Source: Matthias Schrader

This could be our squad emerging slowly into the suffocating humidity of the Estadio Castelao for a light and untaxing training, except our players are on the beach, contemplating a return to pre-season training with their clubs.

This could be an Irish fan queueing for the toilet, marvelling at the similarities between a Brazilian pop song and one of the most famous tunes by our national treasure Johnny Logan, except it’s a German fan marvelling at the similarities between the Brazilian pop song and a famous tune by their national treasure Johnny Logan.

This could be our supporters wandering home along the beach in the early hours through a cluster of dustmen napping on park benches, except our World Cup dreams were consigned to the dustbin nine months ago.

It could be our players hoping to conserve energy in the tropical climate ahead of their final group game against the United States in a sweltering Recife, except we could not handle the heat of qualification.

Brazil Soccer WCup Ghana US Ghana's fans will be hoping for the result that can reignite their Group G challenge. Source: Dolores Ochoa

It could be us arriving on charter flights this afternoon in our thousands from our resort bases further south, except we would never follow our team in such a sensible fashion.

It could be our coach weighing up which Champions League-winning defender he should play in place of an injured Champions League finalist, except our top-ranked representative in Europe’s elite competition this season is back in Glasgow waiting for the second qualifying round draw to be made on Monday.

It could be one of our players forced to defend a man with eight goals in seven World Cup matches against the ridiculous criticism of Jose Mourinho, except our record World Cup goal-scorer is training in Los Angeles ahead of next weekend’s fixture away to the San Jose Earthquakes.

It could be us giddily contemplating a second round encounter with Belgium, Algeria, Russia or South Korea, except we were two places and six points away from securing even a play-off.

It could be us at the World Cup, except it’s not.

‘Twas all just a Midwinter Night’s Dream.

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Mikey Stafford

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