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The Republic Of Ireland Deserves To Be Your New Second-Favorite Team

Republic of Ireland vs Bosnia-Herzegovina | EURO 2016 Playoff 1st Leg

Bilino Polje, Zenica, Bosnia

Friday, November 13th, 2:30 PM ET | ESPN 2 

Just due west of where the River Liffey enters the Irish Sea runs O’Connell Street. Heading north across the granite and portland stones of the O’Connell Bridge, connecting the North and Southsides of Dublin, your vision becomes dominated by a nearly 400-foot stainless steel pin rising and merging into the Dublin sky.

The Spire of Dublin, also commonly known as The Spike, serves as a popular meeting point for Dubliners and tourists unfamiliar with the orientation of the Fair City.

Erected before the spire, arms outstretched to the heavens, is the statue of James Larkin, Irish trade union leader and socialist activist. Larkin stands immortalized, the inscription on the front of the monument reading, “The great appear great because we are on our knees: Let us rise.”

It’s a wisdom that the Republic of Ireland National Team would do well to heed this Friday as they attempt to take their place among Europe’s footballing greats at EURO 2016.

On Friday, the Boys in Green will be hoping to give their supporters a reason to gather from the Spire to Temple Bar, the lively nightlife area which boasts some of the most famous pubs and bars in Ireland.

Ireland EURO 2016 Playoff

Photo: @TomBray91 | Twitter

With 4,630,000 inhabitants, Ireland is the 29th largest country by population in Europe. Factor in the popularity of Gaelic football, hurling and rugby, and an appearance in the finals of a major soccer tournament is a massive accomplishment for the country.

On Friday, November 13th, all matters of public interest will take a backseat as the Republic of Ireland attempts to accomplish this feat for the sixth time in their history.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

-Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

Republic of Ireland EURO Playoff

Photo: @BBCNewsNI | Twitter

Being a part of The Green Army is to be grounded in stoicism. Fortune is always hiding, their qualifying campaigns call for an endurance of hardship without the rash, reactionist responses that typify supporters of more outstanding sides.

An Irish team lacking in guile and craft can occasionally make England look like the Harlem Globetrotters in comparison. 

John O’Shea, Glenn Whelan, Jon Walters and Robbie Keane don’t exactly set the pulses racing but, to paraphrase Epictetus, just as the material of the carpenter is wood, and that of statuary bronze, so the subject-matter of the Republic of Ireland national team is each player’s commitment to the cause.

Ireland bowed out in the most acrimonious of fashions during the 2010 World Cup playoff defeat to a Thierry Henry “inspired” France. The subsequent apology from Henry, as well as the $7 million paid to the FAI as hush money, did little to dispel the feelings of injustice.

In the grand scheme of things, however, this is a team that has qualified for only three out of a possible 19 World Cups (they didn’t enter the inaugural 1930 competition). Their European Championship qualification record is hardly any more inspiring, qualifying for two out of 14. 

Their overall record in qualification for major tournaments reads played 242, won 97, drawn 71 and lost 74.

That’s a win percentage of 40%, along with an average of 1.4 goals per game versus 1.2 goals conceded. The margin between the Republic of Ireland and their opponents, historically, tells you all you need to know about the mercurial nature of the side.

“Some things are more precious because they don’t last long.”

-Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Through the accumulation of moments of total internal capitulation, bone-headed acts from Chief Executive John Delaney and absolute thrashings from superior opposition, the moments to savor are made all the more sweet.

Robbie Keane’s last-second equalizers against Germany and Spain during the 2002 World Cup have entered Irish folklore. 

Defeating Estonia in the playoffs for EURO 2012 and confirming their place at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin will also live long in Irish memories, perhaps less so for the one Estonian fan who managed to make the trip.

While former international player turned assistant manager Roy Keane is rightly dismayed at an attitude of 'just being here for a sing-song', there's no belying the fact that the Green Army isn't consistently treated to classic performances.

Accordingly, instances of significance like this Friday's match carry a weight, as well as a hope, that you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in the world of sport.

“One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass bodly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”

-James Joyce, Dubliners

Ireland EURO 2016 Playoffs

Photo: @TeleFootball | Twitter

Which all brings us to Friday. While the Irish Republic have the benefit of the second leg taking place in Dublin, manager Martin O’Neill admits that “we have to make sure we’re still in it and have something to play for in the second game…there is no point in thinking that we hold an advantage in Dublin with the crowd behind us if we don’t go and perform in the first game.”

Lining up against the Boys in Green will be an extremely talented and disciplined Bosnia and Herzegovina side. The Dragons were extremely unfortunate not to have directly qualified for the finals.

Finishing behind Belgium and Wales, two of the more fashionable sides in Europe at the moment, Bosnia and Herzegovina boast a squad awash with talent and experience. 

Edin Dzeko is the captain and all-time top goalscorer for the side. His seven goals throughout qualifying, as well as 44 in 74 appearances overall, make him one of the most dangerous forwards in all of Europe. 

Miralem Pjanic has already accumulated 63 caps and is enjoying a fantastic start to his club season at AS Roma. Vice-captain Asmir Begovic is a stalwart in goal and could very well prove to be a source of frustration for a Republic of Ireland side that’ll be looking to capitalize on any chance they can create. 

With John O’Shea and Jon Walters suspended, Shay Given, Ireland’s most capped player, and Shane Long ruled out through injury, the task at hand should not be underestimated. It’ll take heroics from mainstays Seamus Coleman, Robbie Keane, Aiden McGeady and company to see the side through. 

As the Republic of Ireland assistant coach Roy Keane said, “We know the job in hand. We’ve got to go out and do the business…the players have to go out and earn it.” 

For the sake of the spectacle in France this summer, let's hope they do.

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