- 19 Sep 02
Final(s) thoughts of a roving reporter who spent a month covering Ireland in the World Cup in Japan and Korea
Best Off Pitch Performance: Niall Quinn
Even when his shoulders were slumped during that first depressing week in Izumo, Niall Quinn still managed to stand tall. Those of us who were there will never forget his press conference about the Roy Keane affair, an articulate, honest, deeply emotional tour de force which, amongst other things, achieved the near-impossible – rendering Jason McAteer, looking on from the wings, open-mouthed and, for once, speechless. And when it all started to go right, Quinn was the interviewee you wanted to grab in the manic mixed zone after games. Amid the euphoria of qualification against Saudi, he summed up the turnaround better than anyone with a beaming: “I promise you, it doesn’t get any better than this.” And in the immediate, heartbreaking aftermath of the penalty shootout, Quinn was the one offering good words of consolation and talking up the prospect of a rich future in which he himself would have no part. All this, and he was pretty useful on the park too, for an oul’ fella.
Best On Pitch Performance: Damien Duff
What you saw: fantastic ball skills throughout and such a thorough dismantling of Spain’s Juanfran that the unfortunate left-back was dropped for the game against South Korea, presumably so that surgeons could realign his spine. What you didn’t see: such quicksilver movement and penetrating runs off the ball that, even when played in his less advantageous position of striker, opposing defenders were forced to constantly dance to the Duffer tune. A national treasure.
Worst flight: Tokyo-Seoul
The captain called it “severe turbulence”, the hack in the loo who hit his head off the ceiling when the plane first dropped was just glad he hadn’t been sitting down and, as our walloping rollercoaster ride through the remnants of a typhoon continued, 36,000 feet above the Sea of Japan, the rest of us fell to wondering whether we’d merit one or two pars in the papers, as members of the supporting cast on board the “doomed flight” that wiped out Ireland’s football team. Then we landed and everybody laughed at what fun it had all been.
Best flight: Seoul-Dublin
No marks for the premature return home, of course, but merit badges to Kenny Cunningham for a splendid ‘The Craic Was 90 In The Isle Of Man’; to the KLM hostesses for becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves; to the male snapper who suddenly appeared out of the loo in full KLM air stewardess outfit; and, most of all, to the man from the national broadcaster who got down on his hands and knees to kiss Steve Staunton’s feet and, having then collapsed in a coma in his seat, was rewarded by having his face decorated by the Irish captain with magic marker.
Best Device: Electronic Arsewipe
A control pad on the more advanced Japanese loos that allows one to choose between ‘bidet’ and ‘spray’ effects whilst offering five levels of heat and pressure. The end of jax paper as we know it and quite possibly illegal in certain fundamentalist countries.
Most Badly Needed Bit Of Perspective: Yoshika
First Keane gone, then Jason McAteer clattered out of it in a warm-up game against a club side from Hiroshima. The phrase that came to mind was, ‘Carlsberg don’t do nightmares but if they did…’ Then, on the bus after the game, a chance conversation with Yoshika, one of our interpreters, revealed that her mother (then eight years of age) and grandmother had both survived the Hiroshima bomb, even though the roof of their house had collapsed on top of them. Yoshika’s family still live in Hiroshima; like other survivors they had gone back to their obliterated homes and rebuilt them on the exact same spot. So, try telling them about your World Cup “bombshells”…
Best Hiberno-Japanese Cultural Exchange: Izumo
From our female Japanese interpreters in Izumo, we learned such essential journalistic expressions as ‘receipto’ (receipt), ‘hotto’ (hot) and ‘Keano’ (gone fishing). But the linguistic learning traffic wasn’t all one-way. Oh, no. Thus, on moving on from our first port of call, we departed to the sight and sound of our beloved interpreters all lined up and wishing us a cheery, “Goodbye, gobshites”.
Best Phonecall: Con Houlihan
The day after Mick McCarthy had quoted one of his lines in a press conference, a quick call home to the great Con Houlihan found him still in top form. “I’m just sitting down to watch Sweden versus Donegal”, he explained. Donegal won that one but, sadly, later went out to a Turkish Golden Goal, thus depriving the world of the first African champions from Ulster.
Best Chant: The Gary Breen Song
Actually, make that the most stupid but absurdly infectious football chant in the world… ever. To the tune of ‘Yellow Submarine’, the chorus consists entirely of the phrase, “We all dream of a team of Gary Breens, a team of Gary Breens”, while the verse runs, “And number one is Gary Breen, and number two is Gary Breen, and number three” etc. I think you get the picture. Try it at home: hours of fun for all the family until the men in the white coats arrive.
Most Alien Sight To Irish Eyes: Korea’s Red Army
Specifically, the spectacle of thousands of Korean fans cleaning up their own litter as they departed the massive, hysterical street party in downtown Seoul that followed their win over Portugal. If these people were forced to attend a homecoming in the Phoenix Park, they’d probably plant some new trees before they left.
Most Singular Press Conference: Jason McAteer
This was the freewheeling solo performance by Jason McAteer on the day before the Spanish game, at which he sort of announced his retirement and then sort of retracted it before, in response to a question about the possible whereabouts of one Roy Keane, grinning broadly and hazarding the speculation that Ireland’s most famous missing person was “probably bollocksed in a bar in Florida”.
Best Line: Eamon Carr
The Herald’s man about Asia, upon encountering a building in Seoul, which apparently housed a brothel, a shrine and a music venue, memorably declaimed: “Get your hole, save your soul, rock ‘n’ roll!”
Most Unfair And Inaccurate Observation: By An Anonymous Hack
During the squad’s “soccer skills” session with local kids inside Izumo’s futuristic dome: “Ah look, there’s Duffer teaching them tricks, Quinny doing headers, Robbie refusing to let them have the ball and Richard Dunne handing out beer and cigarettes”.