OpinionRoy Curtis

It's more than just a game...

Robbie Brady celebrates after the game in Bosnia
Robbie Brady celebrates after the game in Bosnia

The firestorm of hate in Paris, all that murderous nihilism, stygian darkness overwhelming the City of Light, cast a fresh, suffocating fog over Martin O’Neill’s Ireland.

All at once, Zenica’s surreal Dickensian mists gave way to a smother of loathing, a gloom of despair, a murky hopelessness.
Even as the barbarity by the Seine began, Ireland was seeking to punch its ticket to France and that glorious, heavenly, now besieged First City.
Exactly six years ago on an infamous play-off night, Irish voices filled the boulevards and cafes around Stade De France and the Place de la Republique, the very venues which, on Friday, the butchers chose to defile with the toxic fountainhead that spews from their evil, contemptuous souls.
Our sorrows were restricted to wondering what might have been had Thierry Henry not reached out his hand; it seemed then like a matter of life and death.
But real life and death bobbed cheek to cheek on Friday in a tormenting Danse Macabre.
Amid the numbness, the revulsion, the seeking to make sense of this medieval badness, the default setting is to declare sport an insignificance, to dismiss the Aviva tomorrow as a microscopic dot on the map of things that matter.
In truth, it is the very opposite, a giant beacon in the smog.
As the world strains for hope, the brotherhood of the coliseum assumes greater meaning, becomes ever more worthwhile, freshly vital.
The Ballsbridge bear-pit elevates to a theatre of solidarity, an altar at which to worship a way of life held dear; a time for standing firm, for refusing to buckle though caught by a haymaker of inhuman, Neanderthal savagery.
The cathedral on Lansdowne Road can be a special place tomorrow, a warm house: A temple of empathy, a fellowship of humanity, a mosque of love.
A chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with France, to reject and drown out the breathtaking chorus of insensitivity Mick Wallace and Clare Daly tweeted to the world even as hostages felt the cold barrel of a gun against their skulls.
Of course, it cannot, will not bring back the dead or remotely undo the knot of despair that tightens around so many hearts as the body count rises.
But maybe it can be a ligature against the spurting flow of hopelessness.


The scene in the Stade de France last Friday night

In our straining to make sense of absolute senselessness, in our desire to exhibit some fraternity with the suffering, we are thrashing in the dark.
Fretting about what might unfold over 90 minutes inside a rectangle of grass in Dublin Four even as France prepares to bury its dead seems self-indulgent.
But embracing the everyday is our most powerful weapon, a meaningful way of responding to an invisible, cowardly enemy.
I was in New York in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. 
The citizenry of the Big Apple fought back by being themselves: They went back to work, were loud, brash, though maybe not quite so loud and brash as usual; they honked their horns when caught in traffic, filled the bars. 
And they flocked instinctively to Madison Square Garden to watch the New York Knicks.  They became legionnaires for their home town.
Paris is not our city, but so many of us have visited this European Garden of Eden - been enchanted by the otherworldly beauty of Notre Dame, the eternal culture of the Louvre, the sheer scale of the Eiffel Tower – and left smitten.
It is a jewel in the crown of the civilized world.
Tomorrow, some 50,000 Irish football supporters can speak directly to the French, become the voice of a brother nation.
In silence or applause, with a confederation of tears or an alliance of prayers, the chance exists to deliver the most eloquent repudiation of a vacuous philosophy, emphasise to the authors of terror that we are unbroken.
Then, for 90 minutes let loose a passionate pursuit of a cargo to next summer’s fiesta, mine for a golden passport to the sporting Mardi Gras that – in spite of Friday - will unfold in the land of Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite.
So let us fly the flag for generosity of spirit, let decency blaze.
Ireland and Bosnia are nations with recently troubled pasts; not so long ago each was a crucible of conflict.
Lands where neighbour turned on neighbour, where thousands perished in the name of religion and race; where acts of terror and stinking flourishes of mass murder polluted the soil, where the voice of Satan whispered in the shadows.
Both teetered; both survived.
Sport played its part in Ireland’s awakening:  A dove of peace flapped its wings on Barry McGuigan’s sweat-stained togs; Croke Park opened its doors to English rugby’s red rose; Jack Charlton became a beloved son of Erin.
Tomorrow a great prize sits on the Aviva plinth, waiting for Ireland or Bosnia to swoop like a bird of prey and claim it as their own.
Maybe Robbie Brady can furnish the night with another memorable cameo, perhaps the evening will belong to Edin Dzeko.  
It could end with Martin O’Neill dancing a jig of joy; it could be that Ireland will miss out on next summer’s gathering of the clans.
But winning – true glory - is about more than score-lines.
It is about coming together, about the sense of community and can-do spirit engendered when the parish strains for the sunlight of a county final.
Or when the spit of land on which you were born carries you on an emotional joyride down the September Road to Croke Park on All-Ireland day.
It is about shaking the hand of the bereaved as the casket is lowered into the soil.
Tomorrow, once more, it is about gently reminding the suffering French they are not alone.
Sport matters and there is nothing trite about reaching down to find the best of our humanity even as the planet is confronted by immoral monsters.