Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’

Will it be another journey down the rocky road?

On the 5th of November 2013, Martin O’Neill was appointed as manager of the Republic of Ireland national team. This came as little surprise as the Northern Irishman was bookies favourite for the vacant managerial post following Trappattoni’s reign. What did come as somewhat of a surprise was his inclusion of Roy Keane as assistant manager. Despite the history Keane has with the F.A.I after the ‘Saipan incident’; a decade on he claims to bear no grudges with chief executive John Delaney. It is unknown as to whether the F.A.I, along with Denis O’Brien – who will contribute to the wages of O’Neill – believe that O’Neill and Keane are in fact the right men to progress football in this country or if they were just popular choice, guaranteed to increase ticket sales.

Despite the media painting a rather macabre image of Giovanni Trapattoni’s time in charge, he initially achieved what he had set out to do, by reaching Euro 2012. Of course, what followed was embarrassing to say the very least. Following the tournament, the problems began to mount, backlash started to heighten and things began to look very bleak indeed. A poor World Cup qualifying campaign meant that his departure was inevitable. Interim manager Noel King took charge for the remaining two games against Germany and Kazakhstan, a 3-0 loss and 3-1 win. The country is now ranked 60th in the FIFA world rankings, behind Uzbekistan, Cape Verde Islands and Wales.

Unfortunately, the national team is without a competitive fixture until September 2014 so it will be difficult to gauge how the team is doing under the new management team for almost 10 months but the two friendlies that the team has played so far have seen many positives, albeit they were against lacklustre opponents, Latvia and Poland. Speaking on the Lativa game, which Ireland won 3-0, sports writer for the Guardian, Barry Glendenning said, “I was very impressed with the manner in which the players kept the ball down on the floor and pinged it around. I believe their pass completion rate was well over 80%, which is remarkable for an Irish team, particularly when you consider the comparatively sterile dross served up during the Trapattoni regime. Admittedly we were only playing Latvia, who obviously aren’t very good, but some of our play was a complete revelation”.

What lies ahead for O’Neill (right) and Keane (left)?

Obviously, the main objective is to qualify for the European Championship while altering the playing style. There is no doubt that the players will be willing to give it their all, and O’Neill will offer a fresh start for those of whom that have been exiled in the past. e.g Wes Hoolahan, who impressed in the friendlies.

It will be difficult to draw a direct comparison between Trapattoni’s time in charge with the current era of management, as it will be expected that the Irish team qualify for Euro 2016, because 24 teams will participate, rather than 16 in previous tournaments. Glendenning said, We should realistically expect to qualify for Euro 2016. That should be the absolute bare minimum requirement and if we don’t, I think his [O’Neill] tenure will have been a failure. I don’t think expecting us to qualify for the knock-out stages would be too big an ask. After that, who knows?”

Currently, the Irish national team needs sustainability and patience, as short-term vision will ultimately lead to failure, once again. The World Cup 2018 is what the team should be really building towards, whilst qualifying for the Euros along the way. O’Neill is realistic with his ambitions and recognises how international management differs greatly with a club, and the challenges that come with it. “My concern of course is a very obvious one: That you don’t work with the players on a day-to-day basis…When you lose a football match at club level you can have a chance to put it right the next week. I’m not so sure what it would be like when they have three months to think about it.” He said in his first press conference at the F.A.I headquarters in Abbottstown.

Labelled as somewhat of a narcissist in the past, Roy Keane’s appointment as assistant manager was unexpected, especially after stints in charge of Sunderland and Ipswich town where he gained experience – good and bad. Putting the incident in 2002 in the past, Keane will install a winning mentality into the players and will expect each the players to act like professionals. “Yes, he’s made mistakes and isn’t always the easiest to work with, but it’s important to remember that the players he’ll be dealing with are grown men. If they can’t handle being pushed to improve themselves, or a bit of constructive criticism from somebody who has been there and bought the t-shirt, then perhaps they shouldn’t be in the squad.” Glendenning said.

One has to wonder what his significance really is. O’Neill has already brought in two of his trusted backroom staff, Steve Walford, who will be coach and replaced goalkeeping coach, Alan Kelly, with Seamus McDonagh. They will more than likely be the ones who take hands on approach in the training sessions considering neither Keane nor O’Neill consider man- management as their main skills. Keane does look forward to dipping into the talent pool on offer, saying; “It won’t be hassle for me, I enjoy watching football matches. It’s in my nature.”

For the first time in years, there is genuine optimism around the footballing community in Ireland but it is hard to know if that feeling can continue unless there are changes implemented by the F.A.I in grassroots football. There is a long road ahead for the national team and soon enough the honeymoon period will end. It’s hard to know if much will change under O’Neill or if it’s just going to be somewhat of a continuation of Trapattoni’s team, lacking creativity, passion or any belief but early signs do give the Irish fans reason to be optimistic.

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A Micro Guide to the Irish Team

They may play in England but they’re not that well-known, a micro guide of the Irish XI for English fans.

David Forde: Plays for FA Cup semi-finalists Millwall and at 33 looks unlikely to be a Premier League goalkeeper anytime soon. He came in during Ireland’s match against Sweden and put on a competent display showing strengths in dealing with corners and crosses.

Seamus Coleman: That full-back at Everton that isn’t Leighton Baines. NO NOT TONY HIBBERT. Good right back and this season has been more consistent a weakness he had which made Trap reluctant to play him initially.

Sean St Ledger: A typical Irish international who plays better for country than for his club. Released by Leicester he has stated he intends to use this game to win himself a new club. Plays best alongside Dunne – struggles in his absence.

John O’Shea: Played every big game club football has to offer but is error prone at centre back and could be a weak link that is exposed by England.

Stephen Kelly: Ireland’s left back was – once upon a time – an average right back but is not anymore and a glaring weakness as McGeady will do his best not to track back.

Jon Walters: Annoying for a left back to mark but not difficult. A Stoke player so you know what you get.

James McCarthy: Has a fractious relationship with Trap but his talent cannot be ignored, relegated with Wigan but will probably follow out going manager Martinez to Everton; or a stronger team.

Glenn Whelan: Our defensive minded midfielder that struggles to create on the ball; will concede free kicks, ideally around the centre circle.

Aiden McGeady: 200 step-overs and a poor cross, McGeady continues to frustrate. A talented lad that never matured into his own abilities; would rather be part of Soccer AM’s Showboat rather than be on the winning team.

Shane Long: Like West Brom this season Long also surpassed people’s expectations of him. A difficult to mark striker who has energy and enthusiasm in abundance; without saying he has fantastic ball control he has a knack for making defenders foul him – will probably win a penalty.

Robbie Keane: Our all-time record goal-scorer a legend and his experience is crucial. Will understand the significance of this match and could be doing a 90th minute cart-wheel & tumble.