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.