There was no doubting the immense frustration and disappointment at Ireland’s performances at the European Championships. Losing is rarely a problem for followers of the Irish football team, but the errors and very un-Irish nature of the performances ensured there was more anger than normal.
Heartbreakingly, sport was put into miniscule perspective with the sad news of the death of James Nolan. The 21 year old from Blessington, Co. Wicklow was one of the tens of thousands of Irish supporters who made their way to Poland, but sadly tragedy struck.
If you’re a Twitter user, it was almost impossible not to hear about the story as tweets appealing for information and vigilance regarding James’s whereabouts circulated around the social network. On Saturday evening last (16th June) he was out in Bydgoszcz with his friends. He got isolated from the group and when he couldn’t be found the next day, sparked a massive search.
A few days of agonising uncertainty, the worst news was confirmed on Wednesday as his body was pulled from the river running through the town. Very few of the people who heard the story will have known Nolan personally, but the picture painted by his friends and family was of a warm, friendly young man with a love of sport. In short, like so many who made the trip and accordingly the story touched a nation deeply.
On Saturday night, Robbie Keane paid an emotional tribute to Nolan. After scoring for LA Galaxy, the Irish striker made for the Galaxy bench where he revealed a jersey with RIP James Nolan printed across the back.
Speaking to the media afterwards, Keane explained the significance to the US audience. “It was a young Irish fan who went to Poland, 21 years of age, and unfortunately drowned. Obviously, the whole country was sad and I called his father today to send my condolences and to say that my thoughts were with him and the family.
Despite becoming Ireland’s all time record goalscorer by some distance, Robbie’s place in the team was the subject of much debate at the Euros. Age and the standard of MLS may have blunted his cutting edge, but this is one area in which Keane remains a class act.