In a short three day period in sport, we’ll see how two conflicting (paradoxical) dynamics can work well on the island of Ireland. By all accounts, the atmosphere in the ground was warm in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin between the Republic and Northern Ireland last night.
Neither team has been showing great form against other teams, so both are adrift of their ambitions. The internationalisation of the EPL means they’re not picking from the top. But it was a lively game of keen competition with a respectful and friendly rivalry.
Tomorrow, the whole island will be willingly united as Ireland rugby team, presently the second best rugby side in the world rankings, take on the world’s best in New Zealand. It’s a fixture no longer mired in long-term pessimism since that memorable game two years ago in Chicago.
Ireland knows it can beat the All Blacks now, and so does the New Zealand team. There are few fans from Holywood to Sundays Well who do not tingle at the prospect of actually beating them at home. And the fan base has been growing larger and wider on the island since the Grand Slam of 2009.
The recognition of individual choice in soccer has allowed us to move away from the bitter resentments of the past, and in rugby that free choice (and the benefits of the professional era) has led us to put out a team that’s unrivalled in the history of Irish rugby.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty