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Friday 19 October 2018

A rudderless ship with O’Neill at helm

Weird Wide World of Sport

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill (right), and Wales manager Ryan Giggs during the UEFA Nations League match at the Cardiff City Stadium
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill (right), and Wales manager Ryan Giggs during the UEFA Nations League match at the Cardiff City Stadium

Dave Devereux

The UEFA Nations League supposedly pits teams of similar ability together but it certainly didn't look that way on Thursday night, when a young, ruthless Wales outfit completely tore Ireland to shreds.

Ryan Giggs' charges were assured on the ball, well organised and had a gameplan.

On the other hand, Ireland were shapeless, spineless and shameless.

The visitors were already in humiliation mode by half-time, with a cocksure Wales three goals to the good, and by the end it could have been a whole lot worse than the embarrassing 4-1 reverse that was suffered.

Both Wales and Ireland are going through periods of transition, but it was only the former that looked like they have any idea of what direction they want to go, although their 2-0 defeat to Denmark on Sunday illustrated that they're still very much a work in progress.

For Ireland, being swallowed up by a giant sink-hole wouldn't be a whole lot worse than where we stand at present.

It's less than a year since Ireland produced a spirited backs-to-the-wall performance in the same venue, with James McClean bagging a breakaway goal to end Wales' hopes of reaching the World Cup, but the boys in green have gone from heroes to zeros in a painful period since that night full of promise.

O'Neill's hand may have been forced as he had to field an understrength side, but where was the heart, where was the will to win?

The courage that you would expect from any half-decent side was missing, and the basics of organising a team which is at least difficult to break down seems to have gone out with the washing.

It's possible to set up a side that can remain tight at the back, but also possess a threat going forward, but in all of O'Neill's years in management he doesn't seem to have figured out how to do it yet.

Given our recent humbling by Denmark in the World Cup play-off, it would take an optimistic fan to hold high hopes of a confidence-booster when we meet them again next month.

A depleted team may have taken to the field in Cardiff, but that's no excuse for a rudderless display that was sadly lacking in skill and imagination, but most worrying of all it was also devoid of heart.

You can say what you like about the shortage of quality players, or assistant manager Roy Keane's constant ruffling of feathers, but the buck has to stop with the man steering the ship, Martin O'Neill.

When he's not picking fights with members of the media after a disastrous showing by his side or putting his foot firmly in his mouth by saying something outlandish on air, he seems to do very little in terms of piecing together a squad that can mix it with the mediocre, never mind the best.

The most startling thing is the toxic atmosphere that seems to have engulfed the camp. The squad is drowning in a sea of negativity and O'Neill certainly isn't the man to provide the life rings that will keep bobbing heads above choppy waters.

The Derryman is turning more and more into a contrary old so and so, who is shrouded in bitterness and won't suffer anybody that has the audacity to question his long-ball, dinosaur football managerial style.

O'Neill's much-vaunted man-management skills, which used to paper over the cracks of his one-dimensional approach, seem to have deserted him and now he is like a kayaker racing down foaming rapids without a paddle.

Admittedly having an assistant like Roy Keane, who seems to court controversy at every turn, adds to his woes, but he's the man who put him in that position and ultimately has to take full responsibility for what happens on the pitch and the other circus stuff that goes on away from the playing fields.

The disconnect between O'Neill and the Irish fans is growing wider and wider and although we mightn't have a pack of world-beaters coming through, a fresh face with new ideas could at least get them playing as a team.

Somebody like Chris Hughton would fit the bill perfectly, but why would he want to leave Brighton where he continues to work the oracle with the unglamorous Premier League outfit?

That said, you never know what's going to happen in the cut-throat world of top flight football. A few bad results and your head can be on the chopping block, even at a club that is punching above its weight.

You'd have to imagine Hughton's future will be secure at Albion for the foreseeable future though, while the Republic of Ireland will continue to be stifled by the suffocating presence of O'Neill.

As one of the hosts for Euro 2020, it's imperative that we qualify for the tournament.

Sadly, with the current man at the helm, I just can't see that happening.

Wexford People

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