La Honte de Henry
It hurts. Sweet Lord how it hurts. A night of fitful sleep punctured by dreams of a winning goal on 121 minutes has passed and it still hurts like a punch in the solar plexus. It was one of the best performances ever seen from an Irish team, men who grew from journeymen in Stoke and Wolves, to giants playing with composure and skill. The truth is we deserved it. We deserved it more than the French. And for so long we had the champagne on ice, only for the grapes to turn sour by a mind-blowing piece of cheating.
But amid all that, amid the heartache and the tears and the it’s-just-not-fair of it all, three things stand out. One, that FIFA is a farcical organisation dancing on Jules Rimet’s dream by seeding playoffs (how, I mean HOW can they justify it, other than telling the truth – that a Mondial without Ronaldo and Henry rather loses its sheen). Two, the ref had a good game, apart from the obvious. He could easily have given France a penalty late in the second half and then it would have been good night Josephine anyway.
And third, though it hurts like hell to write it, Henry did the decent thing. OK, ok, he could have run over to the referee and said no, fair cop, I handled it. But would Robbie Keane have done that? Would Bobby Charlton, the cleanest player ever? Would he f…
Henry could have done a Maradonna and been smarmy in a hand of God way but no. He went straight over to our boys and didn’t just mutter “sorry lads” and give a patronising ruffle of the hair. He sat with them, while million voices roared “CHEAT” at screens from Dallas to Darwin (I, rather pretentiously hollered “La Honte” and worse at the few Frenchies in O’Brien’s of Kiev).
After the game Henry told the press: “I said that I handled it to Richard Dunne but he said to me … you’re not the referee”.
And Sean St Leger, who’s hip deflected the ball into the net in Croke Park put it well: “it doesn’t look great, but he’s got his team to the World Cup finals. If it had been one of our team we’d have probably done the same. The blame doesn’t necessarily fall on him, but he’s handled it. Everyone can see it around the world.”
Sometimes luck vanishes. We had ours in ’87 when Scotsman Gary MacKay put us into our first finals with a goal from nowhere on a cold night in Sofia. But we’ve had precious little since. All the way from Schillaci to Squillaci, you might say.