A new sporting era started tonight in the world of Irish soccer, when the Aviva Stadium hosted the first international to be played at the site of the old Lawsdowne Road.
With a capacity of 50,000, which i personally feel is a little light and does nothing to instill belief in the FAI's goals moving forward for the development of the game in this country. You can never dispute the level of commitment at grass roots, but to continue to grow the game in this country the national team needs to be performing and however you want to debate it, they are not.
It wasn't so much the manner of tonight's 1-0 defeat to Argentina that makes me think that way, the fact is we are a small island nation, with no proven pedigree when it comes to challenging for the games top honours. Yet a country in South America, Uruguay, with a similar population has won the World Cup twice and their continents premier title on 14 separate occasions. Throw in the 1924 Olympics and you see what I mean that population is not an excuse for lack of pedigree.
The sport of soccer plays second fiddle to the GAA in Ireland and if the implementation of professional rugby in this country continues to raise Ireland high in the World game, then soccer could find itself ranked third in the sporting affections. There is not a better time than right now to implement a real statement of will to make Ireland a centre for sporting excellence for the benefit of the future generations.
With a sense of national pride comes a belief , something that's waining in our contempoary society and maybe sport can help lift us out of the current mood and move us forward. Train up coaches, get people back to work, get them into the schools and create the culture. A culture built on knowledge which in today's information age is widely available. Build some infrastructure. The Dutch move indoors in the winter. Thriving mid week leagues. 5,7 & 11 aside indoors. The weather is not used as an excuse to watch champions league on a rainy night instead of training. That's why they rank high. Why there not quite getting over the line is another story.
Robbie Keane celebrated his 100th cap tonight. A true Irishman, a man who has never failed in his service to his nation. Add 42 international goals and a career in the higher echelons of football and you have an Irish sporting legend. This was his night. We'll need Robbie bang on form in the Euro qualification campaign ahead. As will others. There's a small air of anticipation in the air after the debacle in Paris last year. The soccer public believe we have a chance of qualification. That on our night we are capable. No one doubts that, but sport is about peaks and troughs, those riding the peaks are the ones being consistent. That's what this campaign needs.
Robbie Keane, you get the Booker endorsement. Welcome to the club.