It was a harrowing week, a week when we were awoken from our dreams by the grim reality that our national soccer team was invited to a party that it should never have attended. Euro 2012 is perhaps the best championships since Euro 2000 – unfortunately we will not have contributed one iota to that situation.
In the weeks leading up to Ireland's first match with Croatia, a wave of optimism swept across the nation as we concocted scenarios whereby we would beat Croatia, maybe lose to Spain and then beat the Italians (sure weren't they going through a transitional phase and scared witless of Trap's managerial magnificence?) The reality turned out to be a whole lot different as Ireland were picked off mercilessly by Croatia and Spain, and then slowly squeezed to death by the canny Italians.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. Ireland in international tournaments meant tight games, late goals (for us) and heroic exits. Euro 88 was invoked repeatedly, as if the ghosts of Stuttgart and Hannover (as well as the heroic stand against the Dutch in Gelsenkirchen) could somehow infuse the current Irish squad with special powers. Alas, that just turned out to be fanciful bullshit.
Now the recriminations have begun. Was Shay Given fit? Why wasn't McClean used more? Just what was Simon Cox doing on the left wing against Spain? (When asked afterwards what his role was, he told reporters to ask the manager). The danger now is that there will be a series of retirements that will leave a gaping hole in the squad. Shay Given had a poor tournament but there is no reason why the Donegal man cannot at least play on until our World Cup qualifying campaign concludes. Similarly, Richard Dunne and John O'Shea have much to offer.
It is regarding Damien Duff and Robbie Keane's international careers that we should probably most expect the curtain to fall. Duff probably still has much to offer but his legs may have gone for international football. Damien has given much to the green jersey and offered a sense of trickery and guile that was always an exciting bonus to any Ireland team he played in. Robbie Keane had a stinker of a tournament and well he knows it. The captain looked like a man running in quicksand, chasing balls with the air of a player who knew his best days were behind him. Perhaps we could still utilise Keane as an impact sub, but the reality is that the Tallaght man may decide to call it a day, enjoying his retirement days in the cosy atmosphere of the convalescence home that is the MLS.
This campaign was a disaster on the pitch and the manager will face ruthless scrutiny of his tactics. Trapattoni is a wily old fox and will be nonplussed by any criticism he faces. But surely both he and his paymasters in the FAI are acutely aware that the Irish public need something new and exciting to rekindle their passion for this side. Lansdowne Road will not be full for any of the World Cup qualifying games - bar the contest with the Germans.
It's time now for Trapattoni to put his faith in a new breed of players, men such as Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, Ciaran Clarke, Shane Long and Wesley Hoolahan. The name Stephen Ireland has also been mentioned, but the ructions that his return may arouse might not be worth the hassle.
As for the supporters, the clichés have been rolled out this past week. Much has been made of Roy Keane's comments after the Spanish match, with the Corkman widely ridiculed for daring to suggest that a change of attitude was required when we enter major tournaments. Keane was merely stating that it was time for Ireland to grow up and realise that this was a football tournament, not the Eurovision Song Contest. True, the supporters sang magnificently, but at this stage they are in danger of becoming parodies of themselves.
For those true football fans who attend the majority of matches, who know that there was football pre Sky Sports and that there was an Irish ream before Jack Charlton took over, it must be galling to be lumped in with the bandwagon jumpers who were plainly along in Poland for a week-long piss-up. In one interview following the Spanish match, an Irish female supporter was asked if she knew the offside rue, to which she replied with a laugh that she didn't. It's a safe bet to assume that if she was asked to name the other teams in our qualifying group for Brazil 2014, she would have been stumped also.
Sure, we can pat ourselves on the back when we hear stories of foreign broadcasters staying quiet for the last few minutes of the Spanish match, just so their audiences could listen to our fans belt out The Fields of Athenry but that can also carry the whiff of condescension. One radio reporter who was at the final group game against Italy said it felt a bit contrived when the Irish fans tried to recreate the singing from the Spanish match, as if they realised that this was Paddy's role and by God he was going to play up to it.