In June of 1994, the World Cup also came to America.
I am the son of an Irish immigrant. Prior to June of 1994, I had only visited Ireland once; a family vacation that I didn't remember much of because I was only 5 at the time. I always knew that a connection with my Irish heritage and family were important to my father and in June of 1994 the World Cup helped make that connection permanent.
One site of the World Cup would be just an hour from my home, at Giants Stadium. The first match? Ireland vs. Italy. My dad was able to get tickets and on the June 18th we made our way out to New Jersey.
Of the many memories that were created on that hot June afternoon, the one that I remember the most was the sight of the crowd. When we came out of the tunnel to go to our seats, we stepped into a loud sea of green. Out of the 80,000+ that could fit into that building, I could only see one section that wasn't wearing green or waving the tri-color. I knew the day would be special and it didn't disappoint. Ray Houghton scored, Ireland won and I was officially a fan of the "Boys in Green". In the following years, I would visit many pubs to watch many matches that often ended in disappointment but always left me wanting more.
I watched Jason McAteer beat Holland on the big screen at Slane Castle before U2 took the stage in 2001. (Bono called it the best opening act they ever had)
I stayed up late in New York to watch Matt Holland score against Cameroon and I got up early in London to watch Robbie Keane's extra time goal to earn a well deserved draw with Germany.
There was McCarthy, Kerr and Staunton, Trap and now the duo of O'Neil and Keane.
There were close calls, blown leads, losses in playoffs and of course the Henry handball in the Stade de France in 2009. The last European championship brought an end to a 10 year tournament drought but was also a competitive no show that ended quickly.
After a campaign that looked dead and buried a year ago, a stunner from Shane Long to shock Germany in Dublin helped Ireland qualify for the playoffs. A two legged win over Bosnia booked Ireland's ticket to France where it all starts today against Sweden (in the Stade de France no less)
I was thinking this week about why I was so excited for the Euros . Then, while messing around on YouTube, I came across a video of the aforementioned Italy match. After watching it, I looked at the following picture hanging on my wall and I realized why I care.
Here I am in all of my awkward 13 year old glory with my dad and whatever dog creature was the mascot of the '94 World Cup
The love of this team goes back to Giants Stadium in 1994 and an amazing day that I got to spend with my dad. We ended up going to the after party that was held at the racetrack (I'm pretty sure my dad talked our way in) and we ended up driving two guys from County Monaghan back to Woodside, a move that only my father could make. These games and this team are important to me now because of how important is was to go to that match with my dad back then. It's a nice reminder of just how great my dad has been to me throughout my life.
Starting on June 13th, I'll once again be cheering for Ireland, with passing thoughts of 1994 and going to that match with my dad.
Come on you boys in green.
Republic of Ireland Euro 2016 Schedule
All times listed in Eastern Time
Monday June 13: Republic of Ireland v. Sweden 12:00 PM (ESPN)
Saturday June 18: Belgium vs. Republic of Ireland 9:00 AM (ESPN)
Wednesday June 22: Italy vs. Republic of Ireland 3:00 PM (ESPN)