Monday, July 9, 2012

Galways triumph

 On what was another weekend of sport the biggest highlight has got to be Galway’s beating of Kilkenny in the Leinster final. 

Actually beating the Cats is a rarity and something to be proud of but it was the manner of the victory that truly surprised everyone. The Tribesmen went out and really stuck it to the Cats, they out Kilkenny-ied Kilkenny if you get my drift. As has been the case every time we have watched Kilkenny in the last few years they have always started in top gear, brushing aside the opposition as if they were not even there. Clocking up a score line and physically draining their opponents in such a way as to leave them shattered and drained. But this time around Galway were the ones who came out firing on all cylinders. In an opening half performance that was one of the finest to grace this years or any year’s championship, Galway were simply unstoppable. They harried and harassed the Cats in every corner of Croke Park’s spacious field. Their forwards were led superbly by Joe Canning who strode around the park like a legendary hero of old, plucking the sliotar from the sky and gracefully blasting over and under the bar on one occasion. David Burke has signalled his intention of becoming a star of the future, Damien Hayes showed why he was awarded an All Star in times gone by and someone will have to check Richie Power’s fillings after he was juggernauted by Johnny “I’m going through ya” Coen. In fact I could name nearly the entire Galway team such was the level of the performance that Anthony Cunningham got out of his players.

In the end Galway ran out winners on a ten point margin. They became the first team to win the Leinster Championship and not actually be from that province. Winning a provincial and not actually being from that province did not seem to matter to the Galway hurlers or supporters yesterday who celebrated wildly at the final whistle. And well they might, what they did to Kilkenny was truly extraordinary and the hope is now that they will push on for further glory. The problem with the back door set up is that they will have to skin the Cats again or hope that someone else will do them a favour. It really has thrown the cat amongst the pigeons to quote a horrible pun, as now some team on the other side of the draw are going to have to face Kilkenny sooner than expected. 

The problem for Galway now is that they are going to be sitting around for some time with nothing to do. Granted they have one game left to an All-Ireland but Anthony Cunningham is going to have his hands full keeping those busy till that semi-final. 

The summer is blown open though and it is just what the hurling series needed as it was getting tiring watching Kilkenny dominate in the fashion that they have the last ten years or so. Don’t get me wrong I love Kilkenny’s style and I am fully aware when watching them that they are the greatest collection of hurlers of any age but  at the risk of sounding  like every  true Irish man I loved seeing them being dragged down a peg or two. Brian Cody was ever gracious in defeat as a true legend of a man that he is but you know that the next team to face Kilkenny are in for it, they are going to get an awful hiding as the Cats claws will be out and well sharpened.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The little man versus the mob – Irelands two soccer cultures

Is the FAI doing enough to develop football in this country or are they more interested in getting farcical frankly embarrassing awards from UEFA for being “Number 1” fans? Or maybe it's the fans fault?

At the moment Irish football is a complete mess. We were the first team knocked out of a tournament that, let’s face it, was hopelessly out of our league. We lost another League of Ireland team in Monaghan United which has been happening at a rate of a team a year for the last five years. For a country which has won an award for being the “best supporters” this smacks of unreality. We have a domestic soccer league in this country that is totally ignored by the majority of football supporters within this country. Yet we had 30,000 to 35,000 supporters travel to the far side of Europe to watch our national team get absolutely humiliated. The old sour argument from LoI fans is that the “barstoolers” will only come out when their local team is doing well or in Europe or has some glamour friendly against an English or Scottish club is tiring at this stage. But how fans of the national team can ignore local football is kind of baffling also. 

Domestic football supporters have a kind of elitist, holier than thou, siege mentality which at times can be fairly arrogant and ignorant. There seems to be a total disregard bordering on outright hatred of anybody who dares to have anything to do with the GAA for example. Now I am not saying that this is the same everywhere but in my home town of Sligo this is very true. There is a so called hard-core element within the clubs fan base who has traditionally hated the GAA. Eamonn Sweeney in his book “There’s only one Red Army” remembers standing in the old shed end in the Showgrounds and hearing the home support cheering when it was announced that Sligo had lost a football match. I remember this myself. Nowadays it’s not as bad as that but there are some elements within the league that look down their noses at “Bog Ball” and anybody who plays or is involved in it. The other side of it is, that I have had heated and pointless debates with complete fools who run down the domestic league yet at the same time have never been to a game.

But everyone’s opinion is sacred (thank you democracy) so I left that poor uneducated individual alone. What we are left with is arguing and pointless debates between two groups. One group is like an angry little man trying to out shout the mob, desperately trying to draw the public’s attention to a thing of beauty that is sitting on our door-step. He is always up to fight his corner and has endless points and arguments to show how right he is and how wrong the other man is. The other man is not as stupid as he looks, he loves beauty but in truth he sometimes does not even know that he is in an argument and in fairness most of the time he couldn’t care less.

What is needed is leadership. The FAI is letting football down and therefore the nation down in this regard. There is space for all the national sports in Ireland. As a country and culture we have changed. Due to economic, educational and health reasons Irish people have suddenly started taking care of their health. Running has suddenly taken off in the country. You cannot drive down a country road anymore without bumping into some athletic event whether it’s triathlon, duathlon or just a plain five or ten km race. There is enthusiasm for sport there and this needs to be tapped into and harnessed by the FAI.

This is a bit of a rant and in fairness I am not offering any solutions so I will leave that for my next post but I will leave you with a statistic that was mentioned in an article by Peter Staunton on In it he said that Ireland had an average attendance of 43,000 in the qualifying campaign for the Euros. If even half that number went to a League of Ireland match every two  weeks at €15 a head than it would mean nearly an extra €5 million for Irish football. This money would go a long way to help develop players like Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Stephen Ward, James McClean and Seamus Coleman to name just a few.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ireland's Footballing Future



 In what has been Ireland’s worst performance in an international tournament in forty years there will be a load of blogs, articles and comments blasting Trap, the players, the system and the FAI. But rather than go down the easy route and joining in the chorus of negativity I have decided to look forward with a bit of positivity. I am going to take a leaf out of Eamon Dunphy’s book and take this opportunity to look forward to the future. We have a chance now to issue in a new exciting generation of Irish players. 

So here are Irish players that I believe will be fighting for a place on the Ireland team of the future.
In goals is one position where we are not overburdened with choice.  And although Poland/ Ukraine was not his greatest hour I do believe that Shay Given still has something to offer Ireland. Shay may be getting on but he still a top class goalkeeper and can help ease the handover of the gloves to the next man. Kieran Westwood looks likely to be that man if he can get out of the shadow Simon Mignolet at Sunderland. David Forde of Millwall is looking likely to be the second choice but will be pushed hard by Portsmouth’s Stephen Henderson. Either of these three could be the number one for Ireland so it will be interesting to see who will step forward.

Across the back there are a number of players who I could see filling roles. Marc Tierney for Norwich had an excellent season last year and it will be good to see how he gets on this year. Tierney plays left back but has been known to fill in at centre back. Greg Cunningham, Ciaran Clarke, and Shane Duffy have been talked up for a few years now so this upcoming World Cup qualifying campaign will be a great opportunity to blood all three. From the current squad players like Sean st Ledger, Kevin Foley and John O’Shea would offer experience and good cover if needed. Marc Wilson who seemed to fall foul of the present management is a decent player who is a great option at left back and should be integrated into the squad. 

Midfield is an area where Ireland have had problems in the past but looking closer there are some seriously exciting and talented players who would be more than at home on the international stage. Dunphy mentioned two other Norwich players Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington as potential stars for Ireland in the future. The stats this year for the much lauded rising star of Irish football, James McClean, were that he played twenty three premier league games scored six goals and set up five. Pilkington played thirty games, scored eight goals and set up one. Hoolahan played thirty three games, scored five goals and had eight assists. The three mentioned players were far and beyond the best performing Irish players in the Premier League last year. With established players such as Keith Fahy, Darren Gibson and Aidan McGeady coupled with real potential in youngsters such as David Meyler, Jamie McCarthy, Seamus Coleman and Manchester United’s rising star, Robbie Brady; Ireland actually have seriously top-class players who will be competing for places. I would still love to add Stephen Ireland’s name to this list simply because he is a quality player.

Up front Jon Walters has shown that he has a lot to offer. Long, Doyle and Cox have still got a lot of goals in them and would offer significant competition for places. If Leon Best could shake off his injury problems then he could be a real presence for us up front as he is the type of skilled target man that Ireland has missed for numerous years. 

The future is exciting. We do have a generation of players coming through to the senior squad that could offer us entertainment and memories for years to come. Qualification for major tournaments is a realistic achievement. These lads I have mentioned are skilful, exciting, energetic and eager. I can honestly say that I believe we are on the cusp of what might be a very significant time for Irish football. 
The question to be asked now is in what direction are we going to head.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

You'll Never Beat The Irish!

Loyalty in sport and in life is very important. Loyalty in its simplest form is what keeps people together through the many testing situations that life can throw at you. In sport loyalty is shown through the fan who will stick with a team no matter what, whether they are winning or losing. To those hard-core fans loyalty and love is the same thing.


Tonight in Gdansk we witnessed loyalty on a scale not seen very often anywhere never mind in sport. The Irish fans that had kicked the recession in the teeth to travel to cheer on the boys in green stood and sung their hearts out for the love of their team. At home, watching on TV, it was the one that thing kept drawing me back to the screen and away from the comments on Facebook and Twitter. The singing was loud and amazing.  Those Irish fans over there were going to enjoy themselves but at the same time they were letting their team, and the whole world know, that they were backing Ireland to the last.

It makes you feel proud to be Irish because of that never say die attitude. The chant of You’ll Never Beat The Irish incorporates this more than anything. It must bewildering and frustrating for people from other nations when they hear the Irish fans chanting this, especially after getting hammered so badly as we did tonight.  We as a nation love success but we absolutely revel in the taking of a beating and to stay standing.  We just love getting a hiding so that we can say to our enemies “is that the best ye got?” More often than not they look at us and go off shaking their heads, muttering “crazy Irish.” There will be boys tonight in Gdansk who will shed more than a tear or two for dear ould Eire but they will be the ones who will jump up and sing loudest, when you least expect it, a verse from The Green Fields of France that everyone else had forgotten. In truth everyone had not even realised that your man was still awake. 

The fact is that the Irish are a very loyal people and that loyalty is even more prevalent when we are down. That is when a strange sense of Irishness comes out. We love these lads even more because they got a 4-0 hammering. But unfortunately the truth is that this was the worst Irish performance ever in a major tournament. We have not lost this badly in years. The players were outclassed, ill-prepared and made to look tactically foolish. 

Trapattoni has a lot of questions to answer but will the FAI be brave enough to ask those questions.
Tonight and in fact the whole Irish trip has belonged to the fans. Thanks to social networking sites and other online magazine sites we have never before been as close to the Green Army on Tour as we have been for this tournament. The various antics and craic is shared nearly instantaneously with the eager public back home. Everything from the various flags, costumes and songs to Eamonn Keegans “don’t tell me mammy” Croat breast adventure. The list goes on and the posts that I have seen are really making me feel part of the experience. One that sticks out is the Thai kids singing Rocky Road to Poland, seemingly there is a back story to this which if true is just heart-breaking.

The final game against Italy on Monday is irrelevant so in true Irish fashion we will probably go out and win that one. Irish fans and people have a lot to be proud of so right now we should just enjoy what is left of the experience. Like one of the grumpy old men on RTE said none of our neighbours apart from Engerland have managed to qualify for a major tournament in over a decade and half. So we should be proud of our accomplishment in that sense. So get your flags out, don the green garments, turn up the TV sing out loud and sing out proud one last time YOU’LL NEVER BEAT THE IRISH!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ireland's Uefa Preview

This summer could well be an unforgettable experience for the Irish football team and their enigmatic manager. 

 In the past, Ireland has had some happy experiences at international tournaments. As a footballing nation we have always managed to hold our heads up high and perform well on the pitch. We may not have had teams full of superstars but we have always gone with plans that have ensured a good standard of results.

Unfortunately, as much as we do not like to admit it, as a race we are not naturally flashy flair type footballers. Irish players are marked by their hard working etiquette, their ability to do the simple things right, their physicality and a never say die attitude. Our style of football is harsh, physical and rarely risky. This style suits Giovanni Trapattoni perfectly. His football philosophy fits in with the Irish game and makes it work.  In truth Trap has very Irish values when it comes to down to it. He is a strict disciplinarian, believes in hard work, values the players who are with him the longest and does not see any player as bigger than the team. You could actually easily see him managing any GAA club up or down the country. Granted of course the language barrier might cause a few problems but in fairness I can remember a few coaches from my time that I could barely understand, and we were supposed to be speaking the same language. Trap is conservative and not willing to change no matter how much the media or pundits or bar stoolers rant or rave. The fact that he has brought James McClean though shows that he is not totally impregnable. 

Being written off or not counted is the best place for this Irish team. They always play better for against supposedly bigger and better teams. They will put everything into the next few days. In truth what more could you ask from these lads. 

Right now on the eve of Irelands opening game of the tournament we must look forward to the next nine days with hope and anticipation. We have to be positive. The time is now we are in a great position to really go and show the world what Irish hard work is really about. We are the lowest of the underdogs in not only our group but also the whole bloody tournament. This is exactly where we want to be.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sligo Rovers V Shamrock Rovers

Sligo Rovers-3  Shamrock Rovers-0, The Showgrounds, Sligo 12th May

Sligo Rovers sent out a resounding challenge to the rest of the League on Saturday afternoon with an efficient display of football against Shamrock Rovers. The match was broadcasted live from the Showgrounds in Sligo. 

The TV coverage was decent to begin with and the fact that it was mildly decent weather during the game was a big help. When the sun is shining Sligo and consequently the Showgrounds can be a real beautiful place, but if the weather is bad then it can feel like hell on earth. Which I may add is how many Sham’s fans will be feeling right now after their little sojourn down the railway tracks from Tallaght.

The opening half hour saw few chances as both teams tried to wrestle control of the game. Mark Quigley hit a beautiful, dipping 35 yard shot which bounced off the crossbar. Gary Twigg had a couple of half attempts for Shams which came to nothing. Danny Ventre and Quigley were attempting to dominate the game in the middle of the park. Ventre was tackling hard and Quigley’s moving and passing was intelligent creative. 

The game’s first goal came through Quigley as he burst towards the Sham’s box. The defence didn’t really deal with the loose ball from a despairing lunge at the Sligo forward and it fell nicely for Danny North who drilled the ball low to the left. The keeper's positioning was all wrong for the goal but he was hardly solely at fault. The second Rovers goal came from a corner that was not cleared properly by the Shams defence. After some neat play from Sligo it was teed up nicely for young David Cawley to spectacularly hammer the ball home from outside the box. The ball hit the crossbar and flew into the back of the Shams net, replays showed that the ball did take a deflection but all in all, it still was a fantastic goal. 

The second half was marred by some stupid lack of discipline from Shamrock Rovers when first Chris Turner got sent off for a straight red after what looked like a reaction punch/push on Alan Keane, who in fairness went down fierce easy.  Graham Gartland then caught Raf Cretaro late near the side-line and, after the referee had allowed play to continue, was given a second yellow card which saw him walk.

North got a second goal from a wonderful pass from Danny Ventre, of all people. North had been running the channels diligently all day and finally a good ball came his way and he finished low and hard to the keepers right. 

Sligo Rovers had a good few chances after that but they failed to punish Shams satisfactorily. In his post-match interview manager Ian Barraclough hinted at this, stating that goal difference could be important before the season is over. He was happy though with the overall performance.

It was a great game for Sligo Rovers and nothing should be taken away from any of the members of the team. The one criticism I would have though is that they should have been more lethal and really punished Shams. They were there for the taking and you get the feeling that a chance to really spank them was lost today. But like I said it was a great game all the same and as a Rovers supporter you have to be happy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

United in trouble?

Manchester United is a club on the decline. Why? If you take Alex Ferguson out of the club than where is the will or ability to win?

After Monday night’s defeat to the “noisy neighbours” questions have got to be asked around Old Trafford. The current United team is being driven forward solely by the will and determination of the greatest manager the game has ever known. Alex Ferguson is by far and away the most brilliant charismatic manager the sport of football or maybe any sport has ever known. He is the single most important factor in the rise of Manchester United to the position of dominance that they have enjoyed for the last near twenty years. 

The problem is that although I fully expect Ferguson to come back fighting from this latest setback, and even go on to maybe win the league for a record twentieth time. What is going to happen when he leaves?

United have a team that is lacking in real leadership. They have an aging midfield, questionable defenders, a goalkeeper who is in need of some serious million dollar man rebuilding and strikers who just are not setting the world alight I am afraid.

What will happen when he is gone? Who will pick up the mantel at Old Trafford and lead United into the future? More importantly when will this happen? 

Any new manager that takes over will need to have a certain length of time to bed in. This means a run of poor results that will not be pleasing to the legions of fans that have come to expect success as par to the course during the Ferguson years. A new man will want to shape the team so that his own brand of football will be recognised as different from that of Fergusons. Or, if not, he will attempt to mimic Fergies style in the hope of continuity a la Paisley to Shankly. But the problem is that no one in the backroom at Old Trafford looks capable or willing to take up the reins  when the great man retires. 

The fear is that just like when Matt Busby hand over power to Wilf McGuinness in the 70’s the club could head into a period of decline. Poor McGuinness was never able to control or get anything out of Busby’s players and always had to walk in the shadow of the big man who was made a director at the club upon his retirement. Suffice to say McGuinness got the old heave-ho that December. United never really recovered from the quasi- separation of Busby from the hot seat and therefore the club suffered the indignation of relegation to Division Two within a few years.

In fact it took 22 years from when Busby stepped down, for the last time, for United to win the Premier League title again. Alex Fergusons arrival in 1986 set the tone for a revolution at the club with a lot of old habits and indeed players being swept out the door. The problem at the moment is that if Ferguson was to go a lot of his players are signed with the club and will be around for quite some time. It will take a few years for any transformation to occur under a new manager. Any attempt at mimicry by a number two or an ex-player is not necessarily going to work either especially if Sir Alex is lording over them from a director’s role that the club would have to offer.

So maybe it is time for Ferguson to step down at the end of the season and for the sake of the club to walk away completely.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Less than ten seconds

In a game of football a lot can happen in the few short seconds when a forward picks up the ball and looks to move. 

The right corner forward will more often than not gain possession with his back to goal. He can try to fake left, hoping to fool his marker into committing a fraction more of his body weight in that direction, which can result in a slower push off the left foot as the defender try’s to readjust, so that he remains on the forwards shoulder. The forward will know almost instinctively if he has gained an advantage from this move. If he has he will quickly have to play the ball either to himself or to attempt a pass to a team mate. Our forward though, like so many of his ilk, feels that he waited long enough to get his hands on the ball and is not going to give up his chance so easily.

After playing the ball to himself he still feels the pressure from the defender as he attempts to slap the ball out of the forwards hands. Blows land in or around the forwards hands, and indeed some of them land closer to his ribs, as the defender furiously endeavours to knock the ball out of his grasp. The synopses in the forwards brain are firing and he knows that he is going to have to do something or he is going to lose the ball. He has travelled maybe two yards closer to the goal since the ball was passed to him. The line he is running is being excellently hampered by the defender. The first trick attempted did not work but any good corner forward worth his salt will have a least a few tricks to call on when needs be. 

He drops the ball onto his left foot and plays a quick toe-tap to himself. The defender uses this moment to position himself between the forward and the goal whilst also sticking out a paw in the hopes of disrupting the flight of the ball as it briefly leaves the hands of the forward. The attempt to knock the ball away fails so the defender repositions him-self and gets his foot work right. In that spilt second of readjustment the forward has taken a quick two steps away from the defender, who has the goal at his back. The defender reads the body language of the forward and is quick to move to his left as the forwards leans in that direction. The forwards arms are stretching out and his left foot has planted itself firmly in the ground. The defenders instincts fire and scream at him that the forward is attempting a kick. While experience has taught the defender that a kick might not always be occurring, in this moment the instinctive pull of his mind forces his body to commit once again. He leans forward onto his left foot in an attempt to fall and block the ball if the kick is occurring. But almost as soon as the effort is made he knows he has made a mistake. 

The forward dissected the defenders body movement and knew straight away that the defender was going to attempt to block the kick. But kicking the ball was the last thing that he was going to do. Instead of swinging his leg in an arc that would bring power and force together to kick the ball a great distance, he stalled the swing, dropped the ball down onto his toe, tapped it back into his hands and the turned once more in field. The defender realising his mistake too late tried to reach out to pull or drag the forward back but as he was off balance he could not get his body weight behind him and the forward warded him off with an arm. 

The forward finally had his opening to look up. Immediately his mind took in the players around him and what was happening. He could see that other defenders were closing in on him and he knew that he didn’t have the strength or skill to beat them all. But as he took in the position of his own team-mates his mind began to calculate the possibilities. The full forward, who was perhaps ten yards away, was beginning to move towards him. He could sense and feel the physical abuse threatened from the defender who was perhaps only half a yard behind him. The full forward was free so on his fourth step, when the laws of the game force a play, he punt passed the ball straight at him. The ball had hit straight on the laces of his boot and as it left his foot he was fairly confident that it was heading in the right direction.

The full forward caught the ball squarely on his chest and took his four steps which carried him away from the goal. The right corner forward was coming towards him at speed. He ran across the front of him from left to right. A quick pop pass and the corner forward is back in possession. More synopses were firing off in the mind of the corner forward. On the peripheral of his vision he could see that the right corner back was closing him down, narrowing the angle of his line towards goal. The full back had read the pass from the full forward and repositioned himself so that he would tackle the corner forward in the next second. With two defenders closing in the forward decided promptly that he would have to shoot. 

The full back was too close to his right foot so he had to shoot off his less favoured left.  He always felt awkward whenever he kicked with his left and the technique he had developed meant that although his accuracy was not the worst distance was a problem. But at this stage he had made up nearly twenty yards since receiving the ball and was just approaching the apex of the “d”. He would have to go for it. One last thought of the ball flying over the black spot and then he let fly. The ball sailed high but did not look as if it would have the distance. But as it dropped, gathering speed, the opposition goal keeper  began to shake his head and start a foul mouthed tirade against the full back line which let them know exactly how he felt, if ever there was any doubt, about the standard of their play and even questioned the legitimacy of their parental lineage.

The corner forward meanwhile was gleefully turning and jogging back towards his position, no mark of his inner joy written across his face, except perhaps for the faint curling of a smile itching to develop. But this was no time for smiling the game was not over yet.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A tale of two managers - Trap vs. Psycho

 A tale of two managers in last night’s international friendlies, but who learned the most and who stands in a better position as the countdown to Euro 2012 continues.

The Ireland match against the Czech Republic was a boring, virtual non-event where very little surprises awaited the 37,000 odd supporters in the Aviva stadium or the thousands of people watching at home. Even the much called for debut of James McClean was slightly tainted by the fact that the former League of Ireland man was only brought on for the last ten minutes. Typical of a style that we have come to expect of Trapattoni there were very few surprises for this game.

Across the water Stuart Pearce had taken the helm of an England squad that was not just bereft of stars due to various degrees of injuries, but also suffering a crisis that many commentators of the English team seem to be wilfully ignoring. Fabio Capello’s departure being greeted with an almost sigh of relief by all interested parties who have taken Harry Redknapp to their hearts proclaiming him the saviour reborn. So England fielded a very inexperienced team with a big question mark (looking remarkably like the Spurs crest) hanging over their collective heads.

The Irish team of seasoned campaigners, who have played nearly three years under Trapattoni, managed to secure a draw after going a goal down. The goal was a dreadful one for the defence as they all seemed to drift across towards the left leaving Milan Baros with enough time and space to finish smartly past Shay Given.  Later, after the introduction of a scatter of Irish substitutes, Simon Cox took a well won ball from Keith Andrews, fooled a Czech defender with a nice nutmeg and finished smartly into Petr Cech’s goal.

In the England match Pearce’s team of fresh faces, with an even fresher captain, fell behind two nil to a classy looking Dutch team. A very brave and well taken goal by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar ended up with the Dutch man having a bite of Wembley turf and leaving the game after a brief but fruitful cameo. Arjen Robben’s first goal came from a vintage counter attack which left the English boys panting. But in fairness the boys became men and in typical Psycho fashion they never gave up and looked at least of having secured the draw after first Gary Cahill scored and then a late effort from Ashley Young .  But Robben , the man who was not good enough for Chelsea,  popped up a couple of minutes later to slot home the winner .

The Irish game was a slow dogged affair with absolutely no life in it. It was like being forced to watch a DVD of your dad’s favourite comedian over and over again. At the start you get the jokes, find them funny and see why your dad likes it but after the fourth or fifth time of watching you are starting to wonder why he doesn’t put something else on or worse yet maybe he just doesn’t know about anything else.

Psycho’s performance or interview as England manager was decent enough. The game was entertaining, he had the players seemingly play for pride and love of flag and country, and there was a bunch of fresh faces given a chance to show what they could do. A lot of the young men on the field  should have long and, who knows, maybe even successful international careers. Different tactics were tried and as I said the game was entertaining.

The main difference between the two is that Trapattoni came away with a result while Pearce did not. The question that I will now ask is which is more important? Trappatoni’s insistence on competing fully in each game to maintain a series of results in the hope of building up morale and self-confidence which might give the Irish squad enough momentum to pull off a few shocks this summer. Or the English system of bedding in players so as the new manager can decide which players are suitable and have the calibre to become successful top-class international superstars who can actually go on to win the tournament.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Irelands Olympic football dream

Three years ago the Ireland Under-21 squad began the qualification process for this summer’s Olympic Games.

Don Givens was the Ireland manager who had been in charge for the previous nine years. The qualifiers were in fact also the qualifiers for the UEFA Under-21 Football Championships  At the end of the year Givens gave an interview to the FAI website in which he lamented the lack of a new Robbie Keane emerging through the ranks of the under 21’s. He said “If we had a player with Robbie’s ability to take a good proportion of his scoring chances…” then Ireland would be more competitive at this level. He went on to say in the interview that the main purpose of developing this squad was player production for the senior squad. Up to that point Ireland had played six games in the qualifiers, losing two and amazingly drawing four games in a row 1-1.

Givens lasted just one more game, in which we lost at home 2-1 to Armenia who had already beaten us 4-1 in the previous game. In July 2010 Noel King took over and in his very first game in charge Ireland won 5-0 at home against Estonia. The scorers on the day were Anthony Stokes (2), James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman and Crystal Palaces Owen Garvan. Givens interview stating that Ireland could create chances but not take them began to sound like someone grasping for excuses that just were not there when his team was failing to perform. The introduction of King showed that the Ireland team had goals in them, when the right players were picked and if the right tactics were played. At that time the Ireland squad had players such as the afore mentioned Stokes along with Adam Rooney, Cillian Sheridan, Robert Brady and Sean Scannell, available for selection and in the squad,  who were scoring goals regularly with the clubs they were playing for.

In the end King’s appointment came too late and Ireland ended up finishing, very disappointingly, bottom of the group with just one win from ten games. If we look back at the squad available and added the current batch of players who would be eligible for an Olympic Squad, if Ireland had qualified, then the enormity of the opportunity lost becomes a little striking. The squad would have all of the above mentioned players along with James McClean, Shane Duffy, David Meyler, Conor Clifford, Greg Cunningham, Rhys Murphy, James Collins and Keith Treacy who would have been fighting for places with some of the exciting young League of Ireland talent such as Seamus Conneely, Aaron Greene, Enda Stevens, Jay O’Shea, Ian Bermingham or Daniel Kearns who are playing either in Ireland or have been exported across the water. Coupled with the introduction of three senior players such as maybe Robbie Keane, Shay Given and Richard Dunne; then it is easy to see how formidable a squad this would have been.

I firmly believe that with the proper support and backing of a good manger the Irish Under-21 team could have gone all the way to a semi-final finish at the UEFA championships in 2011 (which would have nearly secured us a berth in this summer’s Olympics). That Under-21 tournament was played in Denmark with Switzerland finishing second to Spain. The Swiss had been in Ireland’s group and we had lost one and drew one against them. In Denmark they had only conceded two goals the whole tournament and that was in the final against Spain. It is conceivable that Ireland could have and should have done a lot better at this level.

Either a lack of ambition or an over emphasis on the senior squad has led to a missed opportunity to represent Ireland at a very prestigious competition. As a nation Ireland’s first international tournament was the Paris Olympics in 1924. We played Bulgaria in our first match winning 1-0 and then our second losing to the Netherlands in the quarter-finals, 2-1 after extra time.  So there is a history for us in this competition but in the modern times this tournament has fallen down the lists of priorities.

Hopefully in the future with a decent manager and some good administrational support we can make a real push towards qualification in 2016, these players are good enough for a world stage they just never had the chance to prove it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

McClean wins the Ballon d’Or!

James McClean Ballon d'Or winner?

No not really but that maybe the only way James McClean may get to go to the Euros this summer.

Giovanni Trapattoni’s drastic turnaround in calling up James McClean into the Ireland squad for the upcoming friendly against the Czech Republic is soured slightly by the inclusion of Paul Green. Green is a typical Trap player and is doing well with Derby since his return from injury. A hard working grafter who will do exactly as he is told, he will sit in front of the back four and he will not take any risks going forward. At the moment, though any of the central midfielders, who Trap has already called up, will go to the Euros before Green. 

The wily old Italian is using the presence of Green to show the Irish football public what type of player he values. Inviting Green into the squad at the same time as McClean is a clear statement by Trap that defensive, conservative, solid team players are prized over attack-minded players who are willing to push forward to take chances at the expense, maybe, of losing the ball. 

The football public can scream and shout all they want but trap will not be turned. Seamus Coleman was called into the Irish senior squad in October 2010 for the Russia and Slovakia qualifiers. But Coleman, who was going well with Everton at the time, had to wait four months and three games before he managed to get a game. Even then it was against Wales in the non-event which was the Nations Cup.

Ireland has three friendlies to play between now and the opening game of the tournament. The Czech Republic on the 29th February, Bosnia and Herzegovina on the 26th May and then Hungary on June 4th. The UEFA deadline for the announcement of squads for this summer’s tournament is May 29th. Taking Seamus Coleman’s experience as the framework for being present in Traps plans then I am afraid that there just isn’t enough time or games for McClean to get a ticket to Poland.

So the only hope for James McClean, to stand any chance, is to play even better than he is playing now and outstrip every other Irish player in the world, basically enough.  Not too hard as he is currently doing that already, but that has only merited him a “second thought” call up to a friendly.  So according to Trap’s philosophy McClean will need to win the senior Player of the Year, and maybe even the Ballon d’Or, to even stand a chance of going.

I know I am being at bit harsh on one of the most successful managers of all time and one of only three Irish managers who has brought qualification to a major tournament to these success starved shores. But lest we forget a year ago most of the country was ready to show Trap the door. No one in the media had much confidence in him and undoubtedly his team was very hard to watch. The fact that his playing style has not and will not change has been forgotten in a wash of excitement. This tournament could go either way for Ireland. But the chance of a sudden change in heart for Trapattoni does not bode well.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

How can Trap vindicate McClean’s exclusion?

James McClean

Can leaving the likes of James McClean, Anthony Pilkington and to a lesser extent Marc Tierney at home, in favour of bringing Darren O’Dea, Kevin Foley and Keith Andrews really be beneficial to Ireland’s hopes for this summer’s tournament? 

In my opinion Traps excuses of players not fitting in or not being ready are just not strong enough explanations. In fairness I do know what he means to an extent. A unit that has a strong bond and seemingly good understanding such as that, which is outwardly perceivable of the Ireland squad, can be upset by the addition of an outside player. This is especially the case if the player seems to be just parachuting into the squad and is, on the face of it, not worthy of that position. This could cause havoc in a squad and go a long way to breaking up any team spirit, which has been so carefully nurtured to this point. If this was the case then I could understand. But if a player is hardworking, skilful and is in unbelievable form, then it is hard to comprehend a decision to exclude him. This is not like your local Sunday league team whereby it is absolutely amazing the number of players that will come out of the woodwork if any sort of chance at success comes knocking at the teams door. Some of the players that Trap is leaning towards leaving behind are extremely hard working individuals whose only crime seems to be that they have not been noticed before by either their club or their country.

As far as anyone who follows Irish football can see there has always been a strong bond in any Irish squad put together down through the years. So this is not something that Trapattoni has suddenly created. Even under Steve Staunton, when Irish football was going through a (ahem) dry spell, most of the players for the majority of the time; were very supportive of every member of the team. So Trap’s latching onto this tradition and using it as an excuse to leave players out is just not acceptable. This is not amateur football no one is trying to jump on the bandwagon.
Il Trap
James McClean, of the three, has got to be worthy of a place. To date, he has played 13 times for Sunderland and scored 4 goals. He is far and away one of the best Irish players currently plying his trade across the water. So a decision to leave him at home because he is not trusted by the management seems very weak. 

Trapattoni though has been let down by players before. Whether this was due to a breakdown in communications because of cultural differences, or to differences due to the language barrier it is unknown and quite a separate discussion. But Trapattoni in his wisdom has decided to go with the age old proverb of being once bitten and twice shy. There will be no exception to that rule this time round and players like James McClean can look forward to watching the Euro’s from the comfort of his couch like the rest of us.