Long before Michael D Higgins became president of the Republic of Ireland, he was president of Galway United FC. No surprise then that within his first year in office, Mr Higgins should decide to travel to Poznan and watch his country participate in their first UEFA European Championship in 24 years.
“It is a privilege to be here,” the 71-year-old said. “This team is a reflection of all the hard work and effort that goes into football all over Ireland. If you took football out of all the towns and villages it is prevalent in, then you would be removing a huge social contributor to our nation.”
That nation watched proudly on Sunday as Ireland battled gamely against Croatia before finally succumbing to a 3-1 defeat. Though disappointed with the result, Mr Higgins did not hide his admiration for the thousands of travelling Irish fans who provided such a colourful atmosphere. “Not only do they travel in great numbers, but they travel peacefully too,” he said. “They are a pleasure to watch and I’m proud to be among them.”
He was also among his fellow League of Ireland community – after all, this Ireland squad features five players who started their careers in Ireland’s domestic league. In particular, David Forde, the reserve goalkeeper, is well known to the president given that two of Mr Higgins’ sons played with the Millwall FC player when they were schoolboys.
“The League of Ireland has a special place in my heart,” he said. “I was at a game in Dalymount Park recently between Bohs [Bohemian FC] and Derry City and I intend to attend as many games as possible around the country because without these volunteers, these passionate, committed people, football in Ireland would not be the success it is.”