The preparations had kicked-off well in advance. Every guidebook was purchased and several wallcharts were blue-tacked on the bedroom walls. Date of births, club history and hometowns were memorised as the countdown picked up the pace.
Every morning, while facing up to the horrible prospect of another day at school, there was a big red X scratched on the calendar. One day less to go before Japan and South Korea: it all seemed so exotic, like a different planet rather than a continent.
And that was just from my living room. Too young to remember USA 94 and only born midway through Italia 90, the World Cup in 2002 was a new experience.
Distinct memories of whispers going around the classroom on one particularly grey afternoon that Roy Keane was on his way home made sure it was going to be a tournament that nobody in this country would ever forget even before it kicked off. Having grown up on the same streets Keane was reared on over a decade earlier, you could say I was a little biased, but once the tournament got underway it was temporarily forgotten about (hey, many still have a chip on their shoulder about it).
I remember being on a school tour in Clonakilty, visiting the railway village rather than eating black pudding, when Robbie Keane dented the German’s hopes; bunking off early with a lame excuse to see us progress against Saudi Arabia before breaking my leg and spending the rest of the tournament confined to the couch. A perfect vantage point for a 12 year-old that didn’t want to do anything else apart from watch game after game.
Gaizka Mendieta’s penalty hitting a divot and diverting over Shay Given’s outstretched leg was one of those moments where a mentally fragile pre-teen with only football on the brain was almost moved to tears. It hurt, even though I was on the other side of the world.
Now, however, is a chance to add to those memories and for all those 12-year-olds in Ireland, provide them with images that they’ll recall to their children in Euro 52. Events like the next three weeks are etched into the brains of people forever, even if Ireland fail to make it out of the group or win a game.
I’m not going to Poland unfortunately but even though I’ll be 1100 miles away it won’t feel like it when every community will be brought together next Sunday night. It may only be the third biggest sport in the country but qualifying for a major tournament has the ability to unite the country more than any other sporting event.
This is the first summer in 10 where real football rules the roost. You’d be forgiven for forgetting that our rugby team are touring New Zealand at the same time and although the GAA remains as prominent as ever, there’s a sense that Trap’s Army will be the big story of the summer. And that’s not even bringing the Olympics into consideration.
It’s hardly a revealing premonition but there will be a ‘where were you when...?’ moment created over the next three weeks. Ireland are the only team apart from the Ukraine, who’ve never qualified for a European Championship before, that haven’t made it out of the group stage but in all four previous tournaments we’ve had moments that will remain in folklore forever.
Will Euro 2012 be given a few seconds on Reeling in the Years? Be sure of it.
We might not come out of the group and Spain may well teach Trap’s team a lesson but regardless of what happens, there’ll be a sense of pride in every football club, pub and living room across the island.
As for the wallcharts, they’re still in a drawer at home with all the other competitions since 98. Let’s just hope this summer’s version will see Ireland in the top half of their group.
*At the slightly more than one third of the season break, I’ve clocked up 4473kms for anybody who still wanted to know.
Alan Smith has been writing for ExtraTime since 2008. He works as a full-time journalist based in Cork, working as a sub-editor for TCM and freelancing for a range of national titles. Follow him on twitter @alansmith90.