We Got The Result But...
This isn’t a review of the Wales v Ireland game although it will reference it a bit. We’ll get this out of the way from the start - I am delighted Ireland beat the Welsh to reach the playoffs but there’s a bitterly disappointed part of me that realises that we could have easily won the group and be celebrating being in the actual World Cup as opposed to being ecstatic for reaching the playoff.
The issue that bothers me is the style of Football that we play. And there are two common arguments thrown back when one broaches the subject of the Boys In Green playing attractive football.
We don’t have the players
We do. We don’t have the likes of Iniesta or Modric bossing our midfield and threading through precision passes but not many teams do. We all know at this stage that Wes Hoolahan is to us was Xavi was to Barcelona. When Wes plays, he dictates the play, controls the game and is able to create chance after chance. People think that the ball playing starts and ends with Hoolahan though.
On first glance it seems so but look closer and you’ll see that Wes is the only one who does it consistently as his default style of playing. I know it was against Moldova but we played some excellent football in the first half. One of the best performances from an Irish team I’ve ever seen was against France in Euro 2016. For fifty minutes we played them off the park...with largely the same group of players we have now. We see flashes of brilliance and quality but it disappears just as quick - but it is there.
We’re too small a country
I don’t even understand this argument. What does the size of a nation have to do with the quality of football it produces? Unless you are Luxembourg or the Faroe Islands (who by the way have a thriving football community) size doesn’t really come into play when you talk about the style of football a country plays.
Iceland: ~334,000 - Qualified
N. Ireland: ~1.8million - Playoffs
Uruguay: ~3.4million - Almost Qualified at time of writing
All the above have a lower population and would more than likely play us off the park. So population isn’t the issue here.
What then is the issue? Why has manager after manager right from the Charlton era and through to MON refused to let the players actually play ball. We’ve had to endure, for decades now the signature long ball. There’s no doubt it can be effective but Christ almighty, it’s not real Football, and the fans want real football, even if it’s just for a few matches every now and again.
The issue I feel is that the Irish have an inherent inferiority complex. It permeates every facet of our society and our Football is no exception to the contamination. The source of this complex and our self deprecation could be absolutely anything from our troubled history but this isn’t an origin story article - the fact remains that it’s there and it affects the style of ball we play and there doesn’t seem to be anything any manager can or will do about it.
We see it when we scramble to claim anyone who may have crossed paths with an Irishman 200 years ago as one of our own. We see it when managers constantly refuse to attempt to try play an attacking brand of football because “we can’t play like that”. We can, we’re just not allowed to. We see it when our main achievement is winning fans of the tournament awards and we’re obsessed with how everyone thinks that we’re great craic. I’m convinced most of the fans who will go to Russia should we qualify will be more concerned with trying to get on Youtube and social media for being the soundest fan in the world than going for the football.
It’s a shame because we do have the players, we can play ball but the players aren’t being given the chance. The match against Wales was a prime opportunity for MON to be brave but he bottled it. Fate almost had the game set up for us to play differently. Walters and Long were both out and O’Neill had a crisis up front. Apparent crisis anyway. The obvious choice was to play Maguire as a direct replacement for Long. He would have brought extra creativity whilst maintaining the constant threat of springing the offside trap with his pace.
MON also could have played Hoolahan in what could have been his last ever game in an Irish shirt. He would have dominated the midfield for Ireland, not in an aggressive way, but in a way which is Alien to us - by retaining possession. The much heard about but rarely seen phenomenon of a player in a green jersey actually controlling the ball and creating chances. Having Maguire and Hoolahan in the team would have taken the game to the Welsh from the start but instead he went with the safe option of looking for a dogfight and hoping we can knick a goal. Sure it worked out, but this is the World Cup we’re playing for. Is that really what we want to be seeing over in Russia? No wonder the fans go for the craic because they're certainly not going for the football.
I’m sure people will say throwing Maguire into such a big game would be a bad call. I present those people to Exhibit A: 17 year old Ben Woodburn. Nothing more needs to be said about that. If Wales can bring on a 17 year old in a qualifier I’m sure Seani Maguire who is banging in goals for fun with Cork City and presently Preston would be able to handle himself adequately.
O’Neill has already agreed a new contract so it’s not like he’d have gotten the sack for losing. There will always be naysayers no matter what he does and you can’t please everyone. I said it at the start - I’m delighted we won but the issue remains. I think a lot of people would have been proud and happy if we came out playing ball and made a proper go of it instead of the horror show of football we witnessed for 90 minutes.
There were times is was almost too bad to watch, not to mention just kicking the ball away straight to a red shirt to start the attack all over again. If for nothing else, Ireland should be made play football because the fans can’t handle the high blood pressure watching games like that for much longer - it’s gotten to the stage when there’s a medical need for Ireland to play some proper football. Any Doctor want to write me a sick note?