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.

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