Football | 1 week ago

Here we are on another massive night for Irish football.

Here's a Derry native from Kilrea down the south of the county managing the national side and leading the fourth seeds of Group D into the playoffs of a major tournament for a second successive campaign.

There's Shane Duffy, another Derry man from Galliagh, a deprived working class area in the city, scaling the Cardiff skies and clearing out ball like no Welsh man has a right to even sniff leather again for the rest of his life.

And there goes James McClean. Derry to the core. Irish with every fibre of his being. He doesn't just strike a potentially immortal bullet of a half-volley into the back of the net to rescue another campaign that all of us had yet again written off, but he does it after bursting his guts again all over another field he had ploughed miles on.

Every time James McClean pulls that crest over his heart, he's like a man possessed - or like a kamikaze pilot mixing steroids with Prozac, thrilled by the idea that, if he's going to go down, he's taking every last person in sight with him and he's going to do it all laughing his head off.

But there's more to James McClean than that because, whilst he might well hurl his body around the place like a human sacrifice for his country, he has much more craft and brains than he's given credit for and he's the one who has successfully manoeuvred the Irish away from the fires and pitfalls of this qualifying group. He's also the one who's kept them afloat even after leaving a trail of casualties in his wake.

As top scorer for his country in this World Cup road, McClean's effect is too often whittled down to his passion. It's a nice story, it's a heroic image, the boy from Creggan who might as well have his heart tattooed alongside those sleeves on his arm and there's truth to the pure, raw emotion that underlines everything he does for Ireland but he's got class too. He's got nerve.

And then Eamon Dunphy goes and makes him out to be different.

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Dunphy, I'm sure, appreciates the contribution of three of Ireland's most important figures as much as anyone and, surer, he welcomes them as Irish brethren. But even when he jokes like that, he makes a pointed statement which almost suggests these guys are blow-ins.

People in Derry are well used to the jibes by now. The footballers are too used to the abuse that comes with choosing the Republic of Ireland when it was never really a choice in the first place. They can deal with that - unfortunately, they still have to - but this wasn't about Derry on Monday night, it was supposed to be about Ireland. Everyone in Derry thought it was about Ireland. Then, over the head of a stupid joke, it was about Ireland plus those other lads.

If you grow up in Derry, the chances are you grow up in Ireland. You get into a taxi on Sunday night and the driver's engrossed in radio coverage of the Slovenia-Scotland match because of what it means for his country and you both, without having to ask, rip shreds out of how 'we' have been playing some bad football.

Kids, when they're no age, are draped in Ireland jerseys and they're raised travelling to Dublin for games and aspiring to join their countrymen and women. It's not political, it's not resistance, it's just culture.

It's just Ireland.

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And it's bad enough in recent times that those Irish folk in the six counties have lost the ability to watch RTÉ's coverage of Ireland games when they were reared on Dunphy's controversy and when they were always part of the national conversation before - the same conversation the state broadcaster set after our biggest nights and our worst nights. Ours.

They're being forced to accept cultural partition as it is but imagine James McClean sees those comments after doing what he did for his country again in Wales. Imagine, after the knocks he takes, the sweat he spills on every blade of grass and the history he threatens to make with one of the most vicious strikes in Irish folklore - mythological battles inclusive - someone with the biggest audience in the country that night makes him and he makes Derry out to be different.

When Martin McGuinness ran for president, someone had the bare-faced audacity to tell him he wasn't from Ireland and he couldn't represent the needs of Ireland (the girl in the crowd didn't want to mention Mary McAleese's 14 years in Áras an Uachtaráin).

"As a young Irish person, I'm curious as to why you've chosen to come down HERE to THIS country..."

McGuinness kept his composure and told her Derry is as Irish as Cork.

Her head-shakes, thankfully, represented only a minority who'd see Derry as different to the rest of the country but then Eamon Dunphy, on a night when Derry yet again propels Ireland to new heights, his joke only serves to feed that partitionist mindset that these Irish men have 'come down here to this country'.

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People in the north have died for Ireland.

People in the north can now be citizens of Ireland again and people in the north have always supported and served the Republic of Ireland football team.

It wasn't a tactical decision by players to join Ireland because they couldn't get onto the north's side. It's not a bloody decision. You're either Irish or you're not and that's it. You don't have to think about it.

And, whether it was just for a cheap laugh or not, these great servants of Ireland shouldn't have swipes taken at them after doing what they did for their country in such an important battle.

James McClean grew up with just as much love and fire and dreams for Ireland as David Meyler would have done.

You see, Derry is just as Irish as Cork.

But at the end of the day, RTÉ felt the need to apologise on Monday night for one of their pundits taking the Lord's name in vain. All we got for Londonderry was 'ah...'.

All people in Derry got for serving their country with distinction was cheap shots.

Tony Cascarino on the SportsJOE Live couch and Rory Best answer questions.

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