Killian Woods shares his tales of following Ireland on their eventful trip to Paris for the second leg of their World Cup playoff
Following the Irish soccer team as a reporter is a privileged job, and though it entails a lot of travelling, the rewards far outweigh the cons – especially when a campaign culminates in a win-or-bust fixture at the Stade de France, packed with 81,000 people. Ireland’s playoff rollercoaster was filled with controversy and began just as it ended.
This reporter’s journey following the Irish team in Paris began on the eve of the second playoff leg, in a theatre room at the Stade de France packed with national and international press. Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni was giving his final press address before facing off against World Cup finalists France.
After the furore of the first leg and with the next day’s fixture in mind, Trap lined up alongside his interpreter Manuela Spinelli and Ireland captain Robbie Keane, trudging through the language barrier with his broken English to get his point across.
Sitting amongst reporters from media outlets ranging from Sky Sports to The Irish Times, it was astonishing to think that a student newspaper like this one could be competing shoulder to shoulder with worldwide media outlets for a precious comment from the veteran Irish coach and captain.
After sharing his thoughts on the upcoming fixture, Trapattoni willingly fielded an array of questions, including his prospective team line-ups and experience of past situations. Listening to the former Italian manager can be frustrating at times: one can feel robbed, knowing that certain insightful analogies are lost in translation – though no matter what linguistic difficulties arise, a lesson is always there to be learnt.
There is little time to sit back and reflect on the messages of Trapattoni to the media. Instead, time must be spent interpreting the coach’s colourful views into an article for the University Observer website.
Come match day in Paris, the sporting tension becomes unbearable. The views emanating from L’Equipe feel that France could score countless goals against this Irish side. However, as game time grows closer and I arrive at the Stade de France, this opinion has faded.
Munching on salmon rolls, sipping wine and eating sweet pastries before kick off in the French press box, I was streets away from the pre-packed sandwiches and coffee of Croke Park the previous weekend, where I had covered the first leg of the playoff as well as Ireland’s draw with Australia the next day.
On walking out to see the bright green pitch and cauldron-like shape of the Stade, the atmosphere hit me: a noise that was ten times louder than that of Croke Park. That said, the vibrant crowd soon dampened team spirits, as an inefficient French side drew jeers from the home supporters.
As the game played out I took notes and constructed my match report to be posted on the Observer’s website. As a dedicated supporter of Ireland, it is difficult to balance the two jobs, and not find myself watching the match without typing a word.
Following the game and that controversial French goal, a media scrum ensues for interviews, with Thierry Henry the top of everyone’s list for obvious reasons. Dejected Irish players leave their changing room in a hurry, wanting nothing to do with us media types after being understandably sickened by the manner of their defeat.
After grabbing a short sound-bite of Henry’s thoughts after the game, I return upstairs to the press box and type up my match report as the groundsmen dismantle the soccer goal frames on the pitch, and set about installing the rugby equivalents for France’s weekend game with Samoa. At 3am, I leave the press box to return to my hotel, as the floodlights of the Stade de France flicker off, one by one, bringing an end to a memorable night.
All in a day’s work.