John Delaney, head of the FAI, in seeking to defend Steve Staunton’s woeful start as Irish manager, pointed out that we have qualified for just one of the last six major tournaments. Supporters, he reckoned, need to adjust their expectations to the reality of the current level of talent at the manager’s disposal. Like Association suits the world over, he was talking rubbish.
When we lost to Germany the response to the players’ performance was generally positive (though people didn’t take kindly to Stan’s view that we had performed magnificently, we had after all been beaten and though the effort was good, moral victories aren’t worth any points). With our players, nobody expects us to beat Germany away from home but we do expect to beat San Marino, home and away, without too much bother. We do not expect to lose 5-2 to Cyprus.
Irish supporters realise that we don’t have the talent or experience of the teams that qualified for three out of four tournaments between ’88 and ’94. Everyone accepted that fact at some stage during Kevin Kilbane’s 75-cap career.
The one time in the half-dozen that we did qualify came about because Roy Keane got mad as Hell and just wouldn’t take it any more against Portugal and the Netherlands. Again, we know Keane is gone and that we will not see a player capable of such heights in an Irish shirt for a very long time. So, as it stands, we don’t have a great pool of talent and we don’t have one great footballer to make up for the team’s weaknesses.
In such circumstances, the one thing we had to get right was the appointment of the manager. We needed someone capable of examining our limited resources and creating a style of football that would make the best use of our qualities (Given, Dunne, Finnan, Duff, Doyle and Keane) and shore-up our weaknesses.
Instead, we got Steve Staunton who, they tell us, will bring ‘the passion’ back to Irish football. (Ian Harte has been playing like that all these years because of a lack of passion?)
This is an extraordinary gamble on the part of the FAI. They talk of grass-roots improvements going on behind the scenes, the re-structuring of the organisation from within and the implementation of long-term plans to secure the future of Irish football but when it came to the biggest decision of all, they went with a hunch.
There seems to be an attitude that, in this campaign, Stan will learn the ropes and that a real push will be made next time. We cannot afford such luxuries. Our current qualifying group isn’t tough but we’re floundering already, the Cypriots having shown us that passion is no substitute for organisation, aggression and skill.
What happens if we are drawn against, say, Portugal and the Netherlands in our next qualifying group? I’ll tell you what happens – we won’t qualify and two campaigns will have been wasted on a long shot.