When the beloved Irish poet W.B. Yeats, wrote the line, “Hearts with one purpose alone,” he was writing about the members of the Easter Rising of 1916, but he could have been describing the Republic of Ireland footballers, as they prepare for Euro 2016 in France. This past Easter weekend marked the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, which gave rise to an independent Republic of Ireland. This past Easter weekend also marked the Republic of Ireland men’s team’s first international match since qualifying for the Euros.
By L.C. Canivan
The historical significance was not lost on Manager Martin O’Neill, who made the statement, “On this very important weekend in Irish history as the country commemorates the centenary of the 1916 Rising I am pleased to welcome everyone to this evening’s game against Switzerland.”
Friday evening kicked off with special 1916 commemorative events including a Tri-Color flag performance, as well as a reading of the 1916 Proclamation. Stadium screens displayed a video of Republic of Ireland players and coaches reflecting upon the spirit of the 1916 Easter Rising and the pride they feel representing the country.
Commemorative Easter Rising scarves and badges marked the occasion, as did the official match program, which featured Easter Rising articles and even outlined Easter Rising battles that took place near Aviva Stadium.
Upwards of 300 of the 1500 Irish Volunteers and members of the Irish Citizen’s Army, who took on the British Army on the streets of Dublin during the Easter Rising in 1916, had affiliations to soccer. It is natural, then, to honour them this evening, 100 years after the event, which ultimately brought into being the Republic of Ireland as an independent State.—
Sean Ryan, official match program for March 25, 2016 Ireland v. Switzerland International Friendly
On this past Good Friday, however, the battlefield was the pitch. And a good Friday it was for the Irish, who prevailed. It was a lively game, with Ciaran Clark scoring with a header in just under 2 minutes. The only blemish for the Irish was a heartbreaking shin injury suffered by Kevin Doyle.
Without their team Captain Robbie Keane, who didn’t play due to injury, the Republic of Ireland kept a clean sheet, giving the Irish supporters of the 35,450 spectators in attendance at Aviva Stadium something to cheer about.
Good cheer and the feeling of history were in the air. A father was overheard explaining the 1916 Easter Rising to his young children. The stadium buzzed with people saying they were glad to be there during such a historical time.
Ireland supporter David Mansfield of County Tipperary remarked, “If the Centenary serves one purpose it has at least opened people’s minds and educated them to our past. Even the kids in schools are learning about the leaders. It’s fantastic.”
When it came to Ireland’s chances this summer, Mansfield, who will be attending matches in France, was a bit more tempered in his thoughts, saying, “We have a difficult group.” Still, he was hopeful, “The games will be tight and this will suit us.”
Ireland had a tight match Tuesday evening when they drew 2-2 against Slovakia and suffered a devastating blow when Newcastle United goalkeeper, Rob Elliot, injured his knee in the friendly. Manager Martin O’Neill said it was too soon to say how long he will be out for.
Ireland are in the challenging Group E, along with Belgium, Sweden, and Italy. When John O’Shea was asked at a press conference last Thursday about Ireland’s disappointing Euro 2012 experience he said, “I was hardly delighted about it!”
As for 2016, O’Shea was quick to note it is a different time with a different manager and different players. Martin O’Neill, a former manager of Leicester City was asked if he was using the Foxes’ fairy tale rise to the top of the EPL as inspiration for the Republic of Ireland in the tournament. O’Neill acknowledged Leicester’s underdog story saying, “It shows anything can be done.”
With this inspiration in mind, as well as the inspiration of the Easter Rising in 1916, the Republic of Ireland Football Team hold the hope and the purpose of victory.