When Ireland takes to the turf at Wembley on Wednesday, it will be just shy of a year since they faced Croatia at the Poznan Municipal Stadium at Euro 2012. The team has done little for fans to be proud of since and drop-outs for the coming four games won’t impress beleaguered supporters.
Over 30,000 Irish fans had travelled to Poland last June, acclaimed by the hosts, and filled with pride at being back on the world stage. Our football team burst that bubble with three abysmal showings and have wallowed in the mire ever since to the extent that they’ve been abandoned by the same Green Army.
The team rallied somewhat in Sweden and we were desperately unlucky to concede an injury-time equaliser against Austria but the players had been asking for it and World Cup qualification is now almost out of reach. It shouldn’t have escaped their attention that their manager is shouldering most of the blame, justifiable as it may be.
As another Premier League season ends, the focus will switch to the new campaign and also to next summer’s festival of football in Brazil. Irish fans desperately want their national side to feature but their pride is in the gutter. Interest in the Irish football team is at its lowest ebb with many still howling for the head of Giovanni Trapattoni, if they can be bothered to howl at all.
In England, the call-up of Alex McCarthy and now Jack Rodwell for the game with Ireland has garnered headlines. The trip to Brazil four days after the Irish clash certainly adds glamour to an end of season series of friendlies. Rio Ferdinand’s retirement has also sparked debate on the English players’ commitment to the national team.
Therefore, Anthony Pilkington’s withdrawal from the Irish squad has polarised Irish fans. No doubt, Pilkington’s excuses are legitimate. He has reason to rest having carried a knee injury into the final stretch of the Premier League season. But he played in a fairly meaningless final game with Manchester City just last weekend. Some have argued the financial incentive for Norwich to finish as high up the Premier league table as possible is not to be dismissed. Neither is making your international début.
The player delayed making a decision to declare for Ireland, and has now withdrawn on four occasions. We can cut him some slack given the fact that his club manager at Norwich is Chris Hughton who wore the Irish jersey with pride, has been tipped to be a future coach, and is a regular at Lansdowne Road home games.
“We now just have to try to make sure we make the right decisions as regards him. He has come strong at the end of the season but it’s certainly an injury he has to rest,” said Hughton
Pilkington’s been unlucky with injuries this season ruling him out of chunks of Norwich’s relegation-avoiding campaign but the comments coming from the player this week are bizarre.
“The management and the physio have pulled me out – I’ve been struggling with my knee so I need to get treatment through the summer and an extra four games is not going to help me through pre-season.”
Pilkington is getting married two days after the England game so he was never going to play four games. Even if Trapattoni had suggested he should risk trouble with the (soon-to-be) wife, we doubt even the Italian, in his most baffling decision-making moods, would force a player to postpone his honeymoon. Pilkington was only ever going to feature in one game. He had a chance to make his international début against England, the country of his birth, at Wembley.
In recent times, Anthony Stokes was destroyed by Irish fans for withdrawing from end of season games due to tiredness. James McCarthy also bore the brunt for some seemingly flimsy excuses before he earned his first cap.
The Irish fan sites demonstrate the level of frustration among the supporters and they’re quick to contrast with past heroes.
One poster on the popular ybig.ie wrote:
“Mick McCarthy missed his brother’s wedding for his first cap in 1984 and then proceeded to travel to China to represent an Irish XI in games which the players were not even getting caps for. This was at a time when McCarthy could have easily looked at the players ahead of him in the pecking order (Moran, McGrath, O’Leary, Lawrenson) and thought it wasn’t worth the effort”
“Similarly, when McCarthy’s father passed away in 2001, he stayed with the squad in Cyprus and continued to prepare for our World Cup qualifier, rather than return to his family in Barnsley.”
Likewise, Liam Brady has often stated the highlight of his career was his first game for his country. Need we point out that in the middle of the upcoming four-game series is a World Cup qualifier? There’s also the little matter of taking on England on their home-ground. A going-through-the-motions display will not wash with Irish fans. They’ve had enough of Ireland’s lacklustre performances.
There’s very few Irish players have the luxury of picking and choosing what games they show up for. Their performances in a green shirt over the last 12 months should lead them to cherish that they get the opportunity at all.
The Football Association of Ireland’s slogan used to be “We care about Irish football.” The empty stands in the Aviva Stadium suggest not too many agree with them right now. The least we can expect is that their players do.