Yesterday in an Aer Lingus jet named 'St Jack' after their Italia '90 exploits, the only team from these islands to reach this year's World Cup finals in the United Staes flew home to adulation appropriate to a Second Coming.
At Dublin Airport, Jack Charlton, opposed to a Dublin welcome until Wednesday ('We have not earned a homecoming') was presented with a box of handmade angling flies for his other favourite pastime.
His mood had lifted by lunchtime when he stepped on stage at the Phoenix Park where thousands of tricoleur flags fluttered in the warm breeze. Some of the estimated 100,000 there had arrived before dawn, some from as far as Kerry, Waterford and Tipperary. Even dogs were kitted out in Irish shirts and tricoleur collars.
It was the most good- natured football crowd imaginable; singing grandmas and grandchildren alike accompanying gravel-voiced veteran Ronnie Drew of the Dubliners for 'She was handsome, she was pretty (I'll tell me Ma),' 'The Irish Rover,' and 'Molly Malone'. It was like Woodstock for the under-10s.
Mothers with shamrock- painted faces fed kids sandwiches and lemonade. Happiest were gardai, with little to do but sit under ancient shady oaks licking ice creams, or playing football with toddlers.
There were giant inflatable Jameson bottles and stars- and-stripes hammers. Infinite varieties of World Cup T- shirts included one picturing John Aldrige captioned 'Is that a ball in your net or are you just pleased to see me?'
A large banner proclaiming 'Que sera sera, Whatever will be will be, at least we beat Italy' caught the overall mood. Similarly, Dublin chip shops who in 1990 offered 'Schillaci-burgers' now take orders for a 'Cod and Ray Houghton' (a large chip).
Hundreds of green, white and yellow balloons were released as Charlton, his face glowing at the welcome, said: 'I'm glad I didn't miss this day because this is something special. I only wish we could have done a little bit better. But every player did his utmost and we can ask no more than that.' As team members appeared on stage there was a warm-hearted welcome for Packie Bonner, despite his Dutch nightmare. A big banner read 'Packie and Co. You're still No 1'.
Helicopters muffled the MC's voice so it was hard to be know whether he was introducing 'the supersubs' or 'superstuds' of the Irish squad, Gary Kelly and Jason McAteer. With the subsequent female frenzy it might well have been the latter.
Asked if he would ever attend dinner with the Fifa officials who fined him and John Aldridge, Charlton answered: 'Of course I would. I've never held a grudge in my life.'
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