Palmer: Irish revel in France's misery
As France began their ill-fated World Cup finals campaign against Uruguay in Cape Town last week, two proud Irishmen made a silent protest aimed at ensuring the folly of their appearance alongside a giant yellow Fair Play banner was not overlooked.
The dust may long have settled on the infamous Thierry Henry handball that ended the Republic of Ireland's World Cup dream and secured France a spot in South Africa 2010 in last year's qualifying play-offs, yet pals Niall Keogh and Niall Malling were determined to offer a final and fitting reminder of the sporting travesty that touched a raw nerve for so many soccer lovers as they took up took up their seats in Green Point Stadium.
Hoisting an Irish tricolour flag with the inscription 'Henry Le Cheat' emblazoned onto it, the Irish duo were promptly ushered out of the World Cup Group A fixture and threatened with a night in the South African cells by police, but their point had been made.
In many ways, it was a tragedy the ejected Niall's were denied the opportunity to revel in the sight of disgraced substitute Henry failing in his claims for a late penalty as France's World Cup effort got underway in limp fashion with a 0-0 draw. The irony of the moment was not lost on anyone, with those watching in the Emerald Isle cracking into riotous cheers as a handball decision went against the fallen sporting icon.
Worse was to follow for Les Bleus, as their tame opening stalemate was followed up by the comprehensive 2-0 defeat against Mexico in Polokwane on Thursday, leaving those Irish supporters who had little choice other than to take up an 'anyone but France' policy when it came to South Africa 2010 to revel in the discomfort of their dishonest conquerors.
The sight of crestfallen benchwarmer Henry looking increasingly bemused with his lot in South Africa is helping to ease the laments of what might have been in Ireland and yet for the players who are currently passing their spare time on a beach rather than realising a once in a lifetime dream of playing in a World Cup, the frustration of their elimination lives on.
"From my perspective, Henry denied me and my team-mates who worked so hard to qualify for this World Cup a chance to take part by cheating and it's hard for me just to shrug my shoulders and forget about it," says Stoke and Ireland midfielder Liam Lawrence.
"I might never play in a World Cup now and it's a reality that I find hard to accept. You try to put this situation behind you and convince yourself that there is no point in going over it time and again, but then it comes back and haunts you. I remember when news came through confirming Henry would be allowed to play in this World Cup despite his cheating and my blood started to boil all over again. It is a disgrace that he got away with it.
"Henry came up to shake my hand and apologise on that night in Paris, but I just shook my head and there is still a lot of bitterness there for me to this day. When you are personally affected by this kind of thing, it's hard to sit down and watch the World Cup with any sense of enjoyment, but I suppose a lot of Irish fans are enjoying the chance to cheer against Henry and France."
Ireland star turns Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne are said to be spending their unwanted months of sporting inactivity by taking their formative coaching badges, while team-mates Kevin Doyle and John O'Shea have used the break to tie the knot with their long-term girlfriends.
"We decided to set the wedding date for June 11th, the day the World Cup started," Doyle told Soccernet, before he married childhood sweetheart Jenny Harney in Limerick last week. "I have been quoted as saying I would rather have been playing for Ireland in South Africa than get married, but I don't think Jen was too happy to read those comments, so I will not be repeating them here!
"To be honest, I got over the whole Henry handball thing quite quickly as there is no point looking back and wondering what might have been. Bitterness gets you nowhere and I will not get to see much of the World Cup this summer as I will be on my honeymoon in the Maldives when the tournament is on. That's no bad thing."
Such has been the lamentable French effort in South Africa that victims of Henry's 'Hand of God' trick have a right to argue their own heroes would have offered so much more to this summer of soccer than the side seemingly intent on establishing themselves as worst team in the tournament and it will come as little surprise that sympathy has been in short supply by those covering this World Cup for Irish television.
Under-fire France coach Raymond Domenech looks set to finish his reign as coach with his head bowed and the always-opinionated Eamon Dunphy has little sympathy for his plight. "France will go home to a very hostile reception from their supporters and they will deserve it because their attitude was very poor at this World Cup and they should be ashamed of themselves," states outspoken RTE pundit Dunphy.
"This team have not shown any unity and purpose at this World Cup and is simply isn't good enough. It's clear that their confidence has been shot under Domenech. The attitude of the Mexican players was first class against France and the same was true of the Ireland team, when they played this side in Paris last year, but the French have not shown up on either occasion.
"Whatever job you do, you have to have some pride in your work. All these French players are multi-millionaires and it looks as if they don't fancy it at this World Cup. Having a coach and a federation they don't respect is giving them a get out clause and they are using it. It is embarrassing really."
With the football Gods seemingly determined to promote the reality that cheats do not reap long-term dividends, Henry and company must be questioning whether the shameful manner of qualification for this World Cup has been worth all the hassle that has come with it.
While laughing at the misfortune of others has rarely been an admirable trait, Irish followers can be forgiven for indulging in such shameless gloating as they witness a humiliating demise of a footballer and a team whose fall from grace will soon be complete.