Comedy Show but Who’s Laughing?

rte panel 2

Pic: Luky

It was a question posed by Bill O’Herlihy; was Friday’s defeat in Cologne as bad as the 6-1 loss in Dublin at the beginning of the campaign? Eamon Dunphy said it was worse. His colleagues Liam Brady and John Giles avoided giving a direct answer. And Noel King’s reaction to the RTE panel points to a disconnect that’s anything but funny.

The statistics do suggest, that in fact the games were similar. In both, Germany commanded 75% of the possession. Last October, Ireland’s squad was equally shorn of experience missing Given, Duff, Dunne, St Ledger, Whelan, Doyle and Keane, as we were torn apart in Dublin. Last year, Ireland managed four shots on target compared to Friday’s five. Germany had 8 shots on target compared to 11 in Cologne. The hosts had 16 corners on Friday, against 6 in Dublin. Ireland’s foul count was 9 to 11. Not much to pick between the games except where it counts of course.

noel king sideline effectAs many a pundit will say, the only statistic that matters is the scoreline, and largely down to David Forde’s heroics, Ireland were only 2-0 down until the clock was in injury time. We were pressing for an equaliser, and creating chances, until Schurrle made it 2-0 and Ozil’s third came at the game’s death. Hardly the massacre we saw at the Aviva Stadium but not enough to convince the RTE panel.

Following Friday’s game, the Guardian wrote “There was the usual vitriol from the TV pundits in Dublin, led by Eamon Dunphy, who suggested that King’s team had the look of one picked by a competition winner.”

In his post-game interview, King defended his selection saying with Ireland creating chances, he was reluctant to make substitutions.

Despite Giles’ assertion that King’s comments were the same as every other manager, non-critical of his own players, further remarks from King emerged in the aftermath of the game in which he bravely hit back at the RTE experts’ criticism.

“How many times have you watched that comedy show? It’s so old, so so antiquated. It’s a funny show and that’s what they do. I’d be disappointed if they didn’t do that. Real football people know what went on tonight.”

A day later back in the sanctity of Dublin, King assured the comments didn’t affect him

I don’t mind debate. ‘Why didn’t you bring on this player? Why didn’t you bring on that player?’ I don’t take offence by that. I love it.”

King lavished praise on Forde to the print press, just not in his interview just after full-time to RTE, a point raised by Brady to which Dunphy burst out laughing.

King has come in for criticism for his selection. There is merit in that criticism but also an argument in support of his policy. The interim coach wanted to pack the midfield with defensive players. Ireland’s width would have to come from our full-backs getting forward. Whelan was named on the right flank but he wasn’t there to do a winger’s job. As King said post-match, virtually no team would outplay Germany, especially at home. That’s not defeatist, that’s reality.

Many would argue Ireland stood a better chance by picking players in their natural positions, mainly wide players on the wing, and creative players in the middle, such as Reid or Hoolahan. King took the decision that that strategy would not work in holding off Germany. He is entitled to that view and he picked a team accordingly.

No matter what eleven Ireland picked, going to Germany always meant our goalkeeper needed to play exceptionally for us to get anything. David Forde was man of the match in Cologne and on another night Ireland may have sneaked a draw. We were pressing hard for an equaliser when Schurrle broke to seal the all-important second goal. Ozil’s third came in the 92nd minute and as King quite rightly pointed out, made the scoreline look worse.

O’Herlihy’s question comparing this performance to the 6-1 defeat was unfair. Dunphy’s harsh accompaniment was worse.

As Eamon Dunphy does so in his highly sought-after autobiography currently being publicised, he regularly references Ireland’s small footballing community, except Dunphy hasn’t been part of the Irish soccer community for decades.

The street game he grew up playing, and so often espouses, the families he knew who were part of the Dublin scene, have zero relevance today. Perhaps lamentably, but true nevertheless.

Street football has been replaced by what Gilesy famously referred to as kids with their personal stereos.

Irish children play football at designated times under designated coaches two or three times a week, and perhaps no other time. That is modern Ireland.

On many occasions, Dunphy also speaks of ‘real football people’ but more often than not they tend to be the section of the viewership who agree with him. During the Saipan catastrophe, those in the Keane camp were ‘real football people,’ the rest phoned Joe Duffy.

“Noel King’s reference to the same ‘football people’ suggests a significant distance between the RTE team and the modern game in Ireland.”

Dunphy and Giles often refer to the tight-knit football community here but have literally had nothing to do with the League of Ireland since their own arguable failure at that level with the Shamrock Rovers project in the 1970s.

Dunphy once infamously referred to the domestic game as the fried chicken league. While Shamrock Rovers, for whom both played, were busy creating history by becoming the first Irish side to reach the Europa League group stages, the silence from RTE’s panel was deafening, apart from Liam Brady who spoke eloquently of the hero status occupied by the Rovers of his childhood.

Noel King is not Trapattoni. Perhaps he is out of his depth, perhaps not. But plenty of international managers find themselves in the same position when taking on a German team widely expected to challenge for the World Cup title next summer.

It’s a statistic that surfaced many times over the last week, but failed to gain much prominence. Germany have only lost two World Cup qualifiers…ever!

There’s been nothing funny about Ireland’s failure to qualify for Brazil next year but a coach trying to restore pride in the space of just two games at least deserves respect. Real football people can appreciate that.

 

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