Irish manager, Martin O'Neill
Nearly every match the Boys in Green have played over the past couple of years, my Facebook timeline has always been the same for the rest of the evening.
“Worst match ever… Awful to watch… They’re terrible.” And so on and so forth.
To which one can only reply: Caveat emptor. Or, slightly less elegantly: it’s the Ireland soccer team we’re talking about here, what the hell else were you expecting? That’s Glenn Whelan in midfield, not Glenn Iniesta. Hadn’t you realised?
It is not “just like watching Brazil”. You know it’s not going to be, so why the complaints afterwards?
I don’t complain about Ireland matches for one very simple reason. I make a point of avoiding most of them. Life really is too short to be watching Ireland huff and puff against whoever the other crowd may happen to be – and huff and puff even more when the other crowd are inferior opponents who’ve come to the Aviva to park the bus.
There are few things in the world as soul-sapping as the sight of Ireland trying to open up some obscure former USSR state, ranked 127th in the world, who’ve fetched up in Dublin 4 with the sole intention of sticking 11 men behind the ball. I had a root canal job on Monday, carried out by that estimable endodontist Naomi Richardson, and it was both less painful and more exciting than your common or garden Ireland match.
I say all this as much in sorrow as in ennui. I say it as someone who went to every home game, and quite a few of the away games, for about 10 years, not to mention Euro ’88 and the 1990 and ’94 World Cups.
And no, I’m not going to pine for faraway green hills. They simply didn’t exist. If you’re too young to remember, rest assured that much of the football during the Jack Charlton era was mind-numbingly tedious. Palermo for the infamous Egypt game in 1990 was an afternoon I thought would never end. Up till the penalties, Genoa against Romania the following Monday week wasn’t much better. It’s a wonder I didn’t come down with some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder in the years that followed.
Martin O’Neill’s team do what they do and are what they are. Accepting this fact of life is the first step to ensuring peace of mind. Don’t expect them to play like Manchester City are playing these days and you won’t be disappointed.
Crucially they possess spirit and togetherness, qualities far from universal in international soccer and ones not to be underestimated. They do what they’re good at and don’t attempt what’s beyond them. In short, they punch their weight and a bit above it.
What exactly the point of Roy Keane is, aside from his role as the generator of easy copy, constitutes an issue that continues to baffle this observer, but that’s another story.
What’s equally puzzling, and of rather more concern in the medium term, is the fact that, 30 years after Jack Charlton made auspicious use of the Granny Rule, Irish soccer has yet to become self-sufficient.
Here’s a list of names from the current under-21 squad. They all have something in common. Can you venture what it might be?
Corey Whelan, Kieran O’Hara, Ryan Sweeney, Shaun Donnellan, Liam Kinsella, Joe Quigley, Reece Greco-Cox, Connor Ronan, Connor Dimaio, Josh Cullen and Declan Rice.
Answer: they’re all English-born.
Three decades after John Aldridge and Ray Houghton first pulled on the green jersey, we’re still trawling bargain bins across the water and chasing young lads who are not good enough to play for England. In that sense the sport here remains resolutely unevolved. What a damning indictment of the FAI.
For the record, I’ll be tuning in next Saturday and on Tuesday week. It won’t be pretty. Of course it won’t. But that’s never been the point.
Just do me one favour. No complaining on Facebook afterwards, please.