Could Packie Bonner be our next MEP?

Could Packie be the fly in the ointment for Sean O Neachtain?

Could Packie be the fly in the ointment for Sean O Neachtain?

Italia 90 was easily the worst World Cup in living memory. Excruciatingly dull games, foul play, cantenaccio gone mad, cynical holding out for extra time, and running down the clock for penalties.

It was a crushing disappointment after the glorious, beautiful, football of the infinitely superior Mexico 86 - unless of course you were Irish. We had an excuse to overlook the wretched games - the State football team had qualified for the first time in its history.

That we qualified was amazing, that we reached the quarter finals (having only scored two goals from open play ) was unbelievable. One man and one match epitomised it all.

“The nation holds its breath,” said George Hamilton as Packie Bonner stood ready to face down the Romanian penalty taker Timofte.

Timofte shot to the left. Packie leaped to his left and the Ulsterman’s large hands (forever after known as the ‘Hands of God’ ) kept the ball out of the net. Arsenal’s David O’Leary finished the job and we were off to Rome.

It was not just one of the greatest days in Irish sport - it was a significant day in modern Irish history and the Irish psyche. It is no exaggeration to say that day played a role in the death of Ireland’s post-colonial trauma, shame of the national flag, and our inferiority complex.

I remember walking through Salthill that summer day looking at the crowds of people who had spontaneously taken to the streets, every one of them waving the Tricolour from walls, in parks, and from car windows. None of us who were there will ever forget it.

Like West Germany’s World Cup win in 1954 (when after the epic final against Hungary, Germans spontaniously took to the streets shouting “Wir sind wieder wer!” - We are somebody again ), Italia 90 came as a much needed boost to a nation which had endured the desolate 1980s, and set a mood of optimism that would flower in the late 1990s.

The point is that sport and politics are forever intertwined - sometimes overly, sometimes by chance. Now that the nation is heading into recession once again, memories of sporting achievements and hope for new ones take on a bigger significance.

Perhaps this is why Fianna Fáil has been making serious overtones to the man who was the hero of that hour - Packie Bonner - to stand for the party in the North-West constituency (Connacht-Ulster ) in this year’s EU elections.

Whenever there is an election - be it local, national, or European - you can expect at some stage to hear some rumour that some sports star, often a former GAA player, will be running for such and such a party.

Certain people will hear this - or start the speculation - and be blue in the face telling us all it will happen long after everyone has figured out that it is simply another one of those regular fairytales that occur around election time.

However the moves to have the former Celtic goalkeeper appear to be very serious and it is understood that Mr Bonner is being courted by FF people in Connacht-Ulster who are keen to see him on the ticket.

It is not known if the Ulsterman will accept the call-up but if he does FF HQ will be rubbing its hands with glee at the thought of one of Ireland’s favourite sportsmen donning the FF jersey.

FF knows it is in for a rough ride in June. Public anger and disillusionment will see the loss of council seats; the two Dublin by-elections will be hard for the Government to win; and there is fear of holding a second Lisbon referendum, as the public do not take kindly to obnoxious Europhiles lecturing them that “you can vote anyway you want as long as it’s Yes”’.

Mr Bonner, should he run, would of course be questioned on his political nous, but the affection in which he is held by the public, the fact that many Irish people follow Celtic, and the feelgood factor he would bring in grim times, could create a momentum that would see him become an MEP.

Spare a thought for current MEP Sean Ó Neachatain. He gallantly defended his seat against FF HQ in 2004 and is one of the few MEPs who is visible to the Irish public. Could he hold his seat despite Mr Bonner, or because of him?

Either way, in deciding whether to run or not, Mr Bonner himself faces a choice not unlike that which he had in the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa in 1990 - ‘Which way will I go?’


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