Air we go again

ONLY now can the full horrific story of ‘planegate’ be told.

At approximately 9 30pm on Thursday night, after five hours sitting in the overhead luggage compartment, your long-suffering correspondent — by now folded in two like a cheap deck chair — was finally crow-barred out of position by trained Red Cross personnel upon arrival at Nicosia airport.

I was lowered from the aircraft by forklift, but so convulsed with pain that I barely registered the indignity of my pitiful situation.

I was then immediately rushed to a local hospital, where it took 13 solid hours of strenuous manipulation by an elite team of chiropractors, physiotherapists, back specialists and bone setters — followed by a further hour being progressively stretched on a medieval rack borrowed from a local museum of antiquity — before I could finally stand up straight again, and speak emotionally for the first time of my hellish experience on board the Irish team flight from Dublin to Cyprus.

Er, not.

Actually, as longish haul flights go — which is usually with glacial slowness — it seemed to me that ours had been an entirely painless experience, with even the designated economy seats offering rather more legroom than is generally the norm in steerage.

The grub was nice too, as were the boiled sweets and hot towels distributed before landing, although in our particular row we could perhaps have done without the malfunctioning television screen which, for the entire duration of the flight, kept on descending and ascending into the ceiling, somewhat disrupting our appreciation of the latest Star Trek movie. (Remind me to sue). And, while I’m whinging, does anyone out there know of anything in the entire cosmos that goes colder quicker than a hot towel?

Of course, as attentive readers will have noted in the report filed yesterday, owing to limited space on the flight, a number of Irish squad members were obliged to forego the added comfort of the even more salubrious seats in business class at the front of the plane, resulting in a bout of musical chairs after take-off and an overspill which saw a handful of star names having to ‘slum it’ with the rest of us.

Forcing even limited class distinction on a football squad en route to a big game is hardly ideal but, still, on the basis that even Peter Crouch wouldn’t have found our shared circumstances too much of a hardship, you might appreciate that it was with some surprise I learned yesterday that the front pages and airwaves back at home were alight with talk of air rage, fiasco, embarrassment, cock-up and other such echoes of Ireland’s footballing dark ages. I mean, is the Lisbon Treaty not exciting enough for everyone?

As mountains and molehills go, it’s a bit of a reminder of that February 2007 flight to Rimini for the match against San Marino when, shortly after take-off from Dublin, the pilot announced that we would have to fly around in circles to burn-off fuel before returning to the airport in order that ground staff could deal with landing gear which stubbornly refused to retract.

“Well, better it’s stuck in the down position than the up,” I recall quipping good-naturedly to a colleague before returning to my book. A short while later, after the apparently routine problem had been rectified in a matter of minutes, we were on our way again, proceeding uneventfully to Rimini. (Which is more than can be said for the subsequent match against San Marino, as you might recall).

You can appreciate then that, the following morning, I was more than mildly surprised to receive concerned phone calls from loved ones at home who had woken up to one newspaper’s admittedly alarming front page headline: “STAN’S JET TERROR’, and to which I think I replied with a hopefully reassuring, “Come again?”.

Not that I’m suggesting that there weren’t occasions during the last campaign when it wasn’t entirely legitimate for the words ‘Stan’ and ‘terror’ to appear in the same sentence but, unfortunately, those tended to be occasions which began and ended with the toot of a referee’s whistle.

Which brings us, with a certain grim circular inevitability, back to Nicosia, scene of the crime which must have had more than a few Irish players involved wishing they’d never been assigned any kind of seat on the outward bound plane in September 2006.

And for those still worried back home about everyone’s continued well-being out here on this latest nightmare voyage, I’m sorry to have to report that the drinks are very cold, and the sky is an unblemished blue. At its high point yesterday, the temperature here was 36 degrees; by kick off tonight it is expected to still be hovering abound the 30 mark. Really, we can’t wait for Thomond Park.

Meantime, Bring Them On Again reads the upbeat headline in the latest edition of the Cyprus Weekly, as our hosts look forward to a return visit by the team they last saw three years ago leaving the GSP Stadium with their tails between their legs.

Now, there was a night when Irish football needed no help at all from the dreaded meeja in making a mountain out of a molehill.


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