Only End Result Matters in End Game

The result is all that matters? Not any more for the Irish. Giovanni Trapattoni has delivered the Republic to a play-off, a 50-50 shoot-out to decide who goes to Euro 2012 next summer. Yet, the manner of that achievement has polarised public opinion on our national team. It is ironic that having instilled a no-lose mentality into the minds of his players, culminating in the win over Armenia. Trapattoni can’t convert the Irish public. Only a win will send Ireland to the European Championships. Only a performance, will convince the people that we’re worth it.

It never fails to amaze how the opinions of the protagonists of this Euro tale, the players and management, are ignored or treated with disdain. No one can argue that Ireland’s performances have not been trials of endurance but we are not the first nation, and won’t be the last, to struggle through qualification. It seems in Ireland, however, with the public so poisoned with cynicism towards the Irish team, only the manager’s actions will speak louder than words.

Trapattonni’s career and admirable conduct since the moment he became manager of the Republic do require that we at least listen to his words before dismissing them.

We lost only one game in the qualifiers, to a good Russian side that qualified. You can criticise our performance but not the results.”

On that score, Trapattoni wins.

Here’s how the Irish fared in our final qualifier.

Shay Given

Will not be happy with the concession of the goal when, for once, Shay seemed to get his positioning slightly off. It was the first goal Ireland had conceded in over seven games. Armenia enjoyed some spells of possession and Movsisyan looked very dangerous but thanks to some typically brave body blocks by the defence, Given was largely untroubled.

John O’Shea

Reasonably solid from O’Shea. You know what you will get from him. He’ll clear his lines but won’t set anything up in attack or send McGeady/Duff away down the flanks .

Richard Dunne

Dependable as ever. Makes a massive difference to the overall comfort levels in the back-four but his last ditch interventions are symptomatic of the lack of a shield offered by our midfield. Was in the right place to capitalise on the mistake that gifted us the second goal.

Sean St Ledger

Like Dunne, he has grown more and more reliable and puts his body on the line when it matters. Can be clumsy with his clearances but again, illustrating how ineffective our central pairing are, St Ledger was popping up in more advanced positions to take possession from the wings and get Ireland going, something which is the job of the midfield.

Stephen Kelly

Still can’t figure out the logic of Kelly starting at left-back. It’s another of Trap’s eccentric selections. Ray Houghton suggested perhaps it was to nullify a threat on the Armenian right wing but Kelly made some glaring errors and poor clearances that put Ireland under pressure of their own making.

Damien Duff

Was never allowed the space to really penetrate the Armenian defence but he’s a live wire and constantly on the move, whether trying to take on his man or regaining possession and making a relieving pass. Still one of Ireland’s only attacking outlets.

Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan

We can only hope the other Andrews and Whelan that turned up in Paris make a reappearance two years on.

Aiden McGeady

Just as he did against Andorra, he looks to have the weaponry to create something but the chap is unwilling to defend. I put it to everyone to watch what McGeady does when Ireland don’t have the ball. He is literally walking. And when we reclaim possession and you expect our wide men to spark into life, to spring to their tip toes, he remains walking. Ireland must have all eleven players giving their all in a defensive capacity in the play-offs. McGeady will not do this. He should be sacrificed for Seamus Coleman but he won’t be.

Kevin Doyle

Another tough day at the office. The red card was a joke. He merely raised his arm to gain leverage but he will miss the first leg of the play-off. Doyle failed to make much of an impact save for a tame shot straight at the keeper and a ludicrous miss that led to the own goal. But any striker who has to feed off long balls all night is destined to struggle.

Simon Cox

The consensus is that Cox merited his inclusion and he claimed the man of the match award but Walters was far more effective when he game in. Cox threw himself about and worked extremely hard in a defensive sense but he was there to threaten the opponents goal and he didn’t do that enough. Having said that, it was his action that led to the dismissal of the goalkeeper. He’s a strong physical challenger and that may see him selected for the next two games.

Stephen Hunt

Struggled to make an impact and you can guarantee that with Hunt on the pitch he will concede free-kicks but he is far more defensively aware than McGeady and if, as expected, our midfield is overrun again, we need a winger who will track back.

Keith Fahey

Fahey has more of a footballing brain and against a technically superior team to Armenia in the play-off, we need intelligence in the middle of the park. It’s difficult to know if he did enough here to persuade Trapattoni to give him the nod. Knowing the manager, he didn’t but at least Fahey has progressed to the bench as opposed to being left out completely.

Jonathan Walters

The big Stoke man had an immediate influence. He was straight up to the pace of the game, held the ball up well and was threatening every time he got in possession. He even fashioned shooting opportunities in the limited time he was on the pitch. Has given himself a chance of starting in Doyle’s absence.

Conclusion:

As far as the squad are concerned, this was job done. It was heartening to hear at least some of them express that the play was not pretty because others seem to allowed the collective satisfaction to delude them. Richard Dunne and Stephen Hunt have both acknowledged that crowds are down and the quality of football may not be the best but they have bought into the manager’s mentality that in the qualifying campaign, results are all that matter.

The Irish supporters will demand that the Republic truly treat this play-off as the opportunity to let loose. A team that does not lose and that is hard to beat is not the same as a team that wins. And only the side that wins will go to Poland and Ukraine. Trappattoni must get that point across to his squad. As he said himself, the job is only half done. And a half-hearted display will lead to only one outcome; play-off heartbreak for Ireland…again.

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