Thursday, June 21, 2012


I had a dream. It turned into a nightmare. An eight day one. 
   Ten years is a long time. Especially when one waits on something. Like participating on the world stage in one of soccer's premier competitions, the European Championships. Sometimes things are worth waiting for - but over the past week and a half that proved to be nonce - proving that such sentiment has no place in the Irish soul.
   I'd given myself an unpaid holiday. I knew the start date - June 10 - the end, when Ireland were dispatched from Europe's top national competition. The first game was vital.
   Croatia - a superior team on paper - a result, a must. Less than two hours later Ireland's odyssey had begun. An odyssey that started as it ended - in a resounding defeat. While national governments and sporting bodies called for Fair Play awards to be lavished on the fantastic Irish fans, the players left the tournament with the worst record of a participating nation in the tournaments history - albeit sharing the accolade with a few others, namely Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Denmark.
   Three damning defeats, eight goals conceded and just a solitary goal for the Irish supporters at home and abroad to force bouts of sporting ecstasy from a people in need of a lift. The team failed to respond to the challenges like teams of yesteryear who served us abroad. Simply, they were just not good enough.

In truth, but for a favourable play-off draw which paired us against European minnows, Estonia, we would not have been there at all. Thousands travelled to Poland and the Ukraine for the matches, but had to resort to renditions of The Fields of Athenry when shouts of support failed to inspire an aging, ill-managed team.
   Robbie Keane now plays his football in a Z-league in the United States and it showed. Fan favourites Damien Duff, Richard Dunne and Shay Given were equally disappointing. Not one of the squad provided a shred of positivity for the world cup qualifiers ahead. Dispatched after just two games, the manager had a chance to blood some new players. He remained loyal to the old - the tired and tested - the failed. Hardly instills a confidence in a manager who football philosophy is at best, dated.

Roy Keane had his now customary pops at Irish soccer - his inclusion of Irish soccer fans in his latest tirade - the spew of a bitter man now earning his living as a pundit living on controversy. Eamon Dunphy threw his weight behind the team and even backed them to get out of the group and to the knockout stages - a prediction with him walking Dublin's Grafton Street dressed as a clown.
   The only highlight was the fans. The best in the world. Too bad we don't give them much to cheer about. I'm pretty sure they have done more for Irish tourism in the past 10 days than Leo Varadkar could dream about doing in ten years. Yes, Leo was there. The Sports minister who knows little about sport. Appointed by Enda Kenny to his first cabinet it was the earliest sign of the new taoiseach's leadership qualities - or lack of as it turns out to be.
   But even I can't let the government take the fall on this one. The buck must stop with the manager - he picks the team. When those teams failed, he remained loyal. Poor management if you ask me. The players let him down. They let everyone down. I don't remember such a no-show from an Irish side in any of their five major tournament appearances since 1988.
   Should he stay? Who know? Though a near €3 million contract over the next two years suggests a certain level of extravagance the FAI are rarely noted for. We all remember Saipan and the 'facilities.' Ireland rarely has philosophies about things - soccer included. If we had one it would reap benefits within a generation. But like economic sovereignty returning, i just don't see it happening.


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