Watching the drama unfold in the new stadium on Lansdowne Road on Monday night made me smile with joy — because I have always followed the football team — and with irony.
Just a few months back, when the Scots had plundered their fourth point of the campaign off us in the same field, many pundits, experts and circus fans wrote off Ireland’s chances.
They also wrote off the management dynamic between Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane. You could almost hear the echo: ‘It was never going to work. It never could work.’
Almost at the same time that afternoon in June, Galway mowed Dublin down like roadkill above in Tullamore. The first warning shots of Galway’s potential, flashes of the form which carried them to the All-Ireland final in September.
When I heard the news from a mate on Monday evening that Anthony Cunningham had stepped down as Galway hurling manager — despite the efforts of a professional mediator to bring an element of togetherness between himself and the men he had soldiered with for the previous four seasons — I felt almost exasperated.
I thought of the joy that flooded through Croke Park last August when Galway defeated Tipperary in the epic game of 2015. It has become a distant memory for so many now — almost like the Scottish result in reverse.
As someone who managed at inter-county level for almost a decade, it really forces you to ask serious questions about the whole thing. What makes people want to do this? Why would you draw that potential grief and hurt upon yourself, and especially your family.
Had Edin Dzeko rifled two first-half goals for Bosnia on Monday night and sent the Irish management dream team packing,
at least O’Neill and Keane would be able to head off to some 6-star beach resort in the Indian Ocean for some rest and relaxation to escape it all.
And if they were shown the door by the FAI, it wouldn’t be long before the offer of some handy number with a Championship outfit materialised.
Now that Ireland have secured qualification to France next summer, the lads are probably guaranteed bonuses and fat new contracts.
Yet contrast that to what Anthony Cunningham has experienced over the last couple of days.
I don’t know what ages his kids are but nothing makes you immune to some of the stuff they will have heard. One thing is for sure, he and his family aren’t off in some classy beach resort in the Indian Ocean or the Bahamas.
Modern GAA players give up a huge proportion of their lives for the pride in making it to big days for their counties. They expect the best in return from a manager; coaching, man management, tactical intelligence, someone who can facilitate them becoming the best they can be.
Did Galway get that with Cunningham? I don’t know for sure but I’d imagine they got the best he could humanly give.
My dealings with him were often confrontational enough on the sideline but they were always cordial.
As soon as the final whistle went, we would always engage in some small banter.
But did I feel I was meeting a considerable force on the sideline, someone that was at least my equal, if not better than me on the day? Absolutely.
In this Cody-dominated era not too many, with the exception of Liam Sheedy, have had much success against the big man.
People also conveniently forget that the biggest hiding Cody ever shipped was at the hands of a Cunningham team. What’s more, in the last five years, Cunningham has a better record against Cody than any other manager — one win, two draws.
It might not sound like much but it’s a lot when you measure how successful that period has been for Kilkenny.
Maybe Anthony should have walked at the first inkling of unrest. Maybe a stronger and more united county board could have headed off this trouble much earlier.
Or maybe the players could have looked before they leaped.
All I will say is that Cunningham didn’t deserve his term to end the way it did.
I strongly suspect he will reappear somewhere else soon. Meanwhile, a new man will have a go at ending the wait since Conor Hayes last lifted Liam MacCarthy.
I wish him well but I hope he knows that no beach party awaits if he fails to end the famine. I wonder is Tim Sherwood home yet?