Bullish words from the Irish squad that we’re not out of the Euro 2016 race did little to comfort Irish supporters dealt a crushing blow by the failure to beat Scotland. There are still twists and turns to come but the Green Army are losing hope in the O’Neill/Keane miracle and asking bigger questions. Here’s ten talking points
The wait for a big win goes on
A must-win game. How many of those have we had over the years? How many have we had since we beat the Netherlands in 2001? Four years ago Scotland came to Dublin for the Nations Cup decider and were one of the poorer teams to grace the turf in recent memory. Have they come so far forward and we back in that time? When are we going to stop talking about must-win games and actually achieve victory?
Are O’Neill and Keane gone if we fail to qualify?
Why? It’s true the O’Neill-Keane era has been shockingly underwhelming so far. Finishing fourth in an expanded competition format would be a disaster. Failing to qualify through a play-off would be equally damaging to both men’s reputations but do we really need to go through another manager merry-go-round to end up with who? Mick McCarthy might be a popular choice. After that, who will generate a buzz among a beleaguered Irish support? Many thought the current management team would ruffle some feathers among an under-performing squad and kick them into gear. We can assume they are trying to do just that but this crop of players are unwilling or unable to respond. Some will hang up their boots at the end of this campaign. Maybe O’Neill and Keane should be given time to get more out of a new crop.
Last line of defence
We thought we’d moved on from the long-ball torture of Trapattoni but when they seemed desperate to get us forward late on, Wilson and O’Shea were among the biggest culprits for surrendering possession. What’s worse is, at 1-1 in a game Ireland had to win, Shay Given infuriatingly wasted time to take kick-outs, taking extra touches or simply showing no urgency. What possible reason could there be for this other than thinking they were happy with a draw? The game was incredibly frustrating to watch for Irish fans and thumping the ball away was the biggest bugbear.
Ireland were on top in the game for large periods and the unfortunate Scotland equaliser cancelled out the large slice of luck we got with Jon Walters offside goal. But, apart from a few scrambles, our response to that setback faded. We had no quality to reassert control. Many questioned why Wes Hoolahan was withdrawn when we were desperate to unlock a defence. Daryl Murphy won some plaudits and while he caused problems, at times he looked off the pace. With a raucous home crowd desperate for something, the team offered virtually nothing.
Throw in the Towell
Anyone excusing the players by saying this was a tough game at the end of a long season should take a long hard look at themselves. We offered no cutting edge in the chase for a winner when that extra desire might have proven critical. Imagine if someone like Dundalk’s Richie Towell were afforded the opportunity. We’re not naïve to think a League of Ireland player could step straight up to international level but with so many fans questioning our attack options, and in a position that thrives on confidence, surely he’s an option against Gibraltar for example. Hunger can mean everything in sports like GAA and rugby. You try and tell us in-form Towell wouldn’t show greater tenacity, with something to prove, than any other player in a green shirt.
Jack the lad
Whatever you think of him, Jack Grealish will choose between Ireland and England, and going by his last comments, he’ll do so when the new Premier League season starts. Ireland now languish fourth in our Euro qualifying group with realistically a play-off spot the best we can hope for. July’s draw for the 2018 World Cup will see us as fourth seeds with a potentially horrible journey in front of us to reach the finals. So if you’re an ambitious 19-year-old with dreams of playing on the world stage, who would you pick?
We’re not out of it…yet
There’s plenty of football to go with Scotland and Ireland facing the same opposition in the run-in but it’s out of our hands. We’re depending on other teams to slip up now to let us back in. That’s highly possible and if we can win our next two games we could conceivably be ahead of our Celtic neighbours. With four games to go, we’re still waiting for that big performance under O’Neill. With Germany and Poland still to come, we might need more than one.
Throughout the campaign, we’ve been waiting for the world champions to kick into gear and it hasn’t happened. Perhaps their thumping win over Gibraltar is the start of that process. Right now Poland are the top team in the group but against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, they were incredibly average. Plenty of the German side have had disappointing clubs seasons, the likes of Goetze and Hummels, while retirements have weakened Jogi Loew’s side. Germany are definitely beatable but are they beatable by us?
The FAI Chief Executive has received stinging criticism over the FIFA payment controversy and Ireland’s reputation worldwide has taken a hammering. Some are calling for his head over the episode but that’s losing sight of the real problem. Ultimately he is responsible for overseeing the development of elite Irish footballers. No Irish players at the top Premier League clubs has nothing to do with Delaney. The English system’s failure to develop our teenage exports has nothing to do with the FAI. Failure to qualify for major finals, drops in rankings, bickering within the Irish schoolboy system and his dismissive attitude to the ‘problem child’ League of Ireland, in other words the Irish football production line, however, come under his remit and if it’s not producing results, his head should roll.
For weeks now we’ve been recalling the heady days of Italia ’90 and many commentators are debating its legacy. Three tournaments in 25 years is a shocking return on what was supposed to be a revolution in Irish soccer. The offshoot of that momentous summer was motivating young players to take up the sport. Kerr once said, during Jack Charlton’s reign he would go to Lansdowne Road to watch the opposition but in his time in charge of our under-age teams, he benefited first hand from a generation inspired by our maiden World Cup voyage. The ex-Irish boss’s appearance on RTE’s Soccer Republic to discuss the current state of the game here again demonstrated what a loss he is to Irish football. Not utilising his knowledge is a crime and if it is based on a clash of personalities within the FAI, then the governing body should swallow its pride.
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