independent

Sunday 17 December 2017

Change of mindset is the only way forward

Weird Wide World of Sport

Dave Devereux

Shane Duffy heading the Republic of Ireland in front against Denmark. Photograph: Mick Harpur
Shane Duffy heading the Republic of Ireland in front against Denmark. Photograph: Mick Harpur

So, THAT didn't end too well, did it?

A World Cup qualifying campaign that had often promised so much ended with the ignominy of a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of a Danish side, who are certainly decent but are by no means world beaters. It was a horrible end to what was a journey with more ups and downs than a roller-coaster ride at Alton Towers.

When you consider we were fourth seeds in our group behind Wales, Serbia and Austria, reaching a play-off was no mean feat, but when you delve deeper and reflect on the past two years we actually let a gilt-edged chance to finish top, and with it automatic qualification, slip through our fingers.

Had we gone for the jugular against Wales when they were reduced to ten men in the Aviva, overcome a limited Austrian side at home or shown a bit more attacking zest in Georgia, we could well have been looking forward to next summer's tournament in Russia instead of mournfully licking our deep wounds.

That said, those constantly calling for a more attacking line-up got their wish in the second-half against Denmark, although hauling off two defensive midfielders to make way for Hoolahan and McGeady was unquestionably taking it more than a little too far, hitting the panic button and throwing caution to the wind far too early.

The manager's Plan B seemed to be just roll the dice and hope for the best, although it's actually difficult to decipher what his Plan A was.

Even the five-year-old at home said to me shortly after half-time: 'If we can stop Eriksen we have a chance'. If a young chap can see it, surely a manager that's paid big bucks could and should address the problem, rather than allowing the talented midfielder the freedom of the Aviva to punish us at will.

That said, the defence was more at sea than Captain Ahab and was such a shambles even Sven-Göran Eriksson would have fancied his chances of grabbing a goal or two.

The young lad was obviously crestfallen to see the Boys in Green bow out, but I'm sure he'll still retain a massive interest in the World Cup and row in behind some other nation. More than likely he'll root for England, given his familiarity with the English players that ply their trade in the Premier League. And why not?

I certainly won't try to discourage him and it would be great to see him and his ilk not burdened with the same sort of ignorance and intolerance of my own generation.

However, in case it all ends up in tears, it's my duty as a caring dad to warn him that in all probability he's backing the wrong horse.

It's hard enough supporting Ireland, a small nation that is manfully trying to punch above its weight and where expectations are generally low.

England, on the other hand, will be built up to Goliath heights in the months and weeks leading up to the tournament, before the inevitable fall.

Gareth Southgate has been plucking players from relative obscurity for recent friendly games, although he'll more than likely revert to the tried and trusted when the World Cup rolls around, but in reality all of the unheralded players he's been giving a run of late are better than most of what we have in the Irish squad.

That's not me trying to make excuses for Martin O'Neill, it's just a simple statement of fact.

With an ageing team it's not going to get better any time soon. Our front line wouldn't look out of place in classic British sitcom 'Last of the Summer Wine' and there would be more pace at the old folks' Christmas shindig.

However, there's no excuse for Ireland's inability and unwillingness to string a few passes together and for that the blame lies squarely with O'Neill.

We may not have players in the upper echelons of the Premier League like in the past, but they can still play a bit at the likes of Burnley or Bournemouth and keeping possession of the ball is surely the best way to reduce pressure on an overworked defence.

Whether O'Neill decides to stay or go, with the inevitable retirements the immediate future looks bleaker than a wet weekend in the west.

It's not all doom and gloom as the likes of Callum O'Dowda, Andy Boyle, Daryl Horgan, Seán Maguire and Kevin O'Connor have their best years ahead of them, but there's sure to be a painful period of transition.

Maybe short-term pain for long-term gain is the only answer.

The reliance on dinosaur, long ball football has to consigned to the same bin as Giovanni Trapattoni's lucrative contract.

The footballing mindset has to alter and we need players to be comfortable in possession and not be afraid to express themselves when they pull on an Irish jersey.

Hopefully then, days when we are embarrassed by a team like Denmark will be a bitter, yet distant memory.

Wexford People

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