The Republic of Ireland’s win against Georgia was not easy on the eye, Seamus Coleman’s scrappy winning goal summed the contest up but it was a case of job done. The Irish performance, particularly in the first half, drew widespread criticism from both fans and pundits alike. However, some context is needed when analysing the game.
Georgia are very familiar opponents at this stage and the fact is they are a very tough team to play against. They may lack a real threat going forward but Georgia are a very well organised team defensively that are also comfortable in possession. They should not be considered minnows like San Marino or Andorra anymore.
The FIFA World Rankings are very false and Georgia are far better than bottom seed material. In the European Championship qualifiers, Ireland had two very narrow one goal wins against them that looking back, when you take Georgia’s win against Scotland into account, were absolutely crucial. Georgia also had a shock 1-0 win over Spain in a pre-Euros friendly match and that is certainly no mean feat.
Other teams in the group will not find Georgia easy to play against either and Austria were lucky to get out of Tbilisi with all three points. There is no doubt too much has been made of a lacklustre Irish performance. The win was all that was required and another win in Moldova on Sunday night will give Martin O Neill’s men a good platform to build on in what is shaping up to be an ultra competitive group already.
An interesting debate was brought up by the RTÉ panel after the match though. If Dundalk can play attractive football at European level, why can’t the national team do the game with players that would be considered to be of a higher level?
“They [Dundalk] are absolutely superb… They came here, they played Legia Warsaw, they were robbed with a penalty. They were great, they passed the ball home and away. They play football, great football. Nobody looks afraid, they look confident on the ball. That is induced by having a good coach who encourages players to do what really is the sensible thing. Ireland could play like that. They could mix it up. You don’t have to accept this agricultural stuff that is being offered up. Maybe we should get Stephen Kenny to manage the Irish team.” The words of Eamon Dunphy in post-match analysis.
While Dunphy is not exactly a League of Ireland expert and has been overly critical of Martin O’Neill possibly to be controversial for the sake of it, he does raise an interesting point. Since the days of Jack Charlton, Ireland have been a team associated with direct, long football who will put themselves about and make it difficult. It is a hard stereotype to disagree with looking at the evidence over the years under the guidance of the likes of Mick McCarthy, Giovanni Trapattoni and, most recently, O’Neill.
There is evidence from this particular set of players that they are more than capable of playing attractive football. The performances at the Euros against Sweden and Italy offer some optimism. The likes of Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick, Harry Arter and, of course, Wes Hoolahan are also technically very accomplished players.
It can be argued that the Irish players are fixed in a mind set to opt to stereotype, as Dunphy calls it “cave man” football. It is almost ingrained in the Irish DNA.
John Giles pointed back to a time long ago before even the days of Jack Charlton when Irish football was widely respected:
“This notion only came into being around the time of Jack Charlton. I don’t believe it existed before that. Certainly in 1950s and 1960s, if you had asked someone from Germany or Italy to profile a typical Irish footballer, they would have described technically good players and in some cases, highly gifted footballers. The perception was vastly different from what you get now from every manager Ireland comes up against, be it Jogi Lowe in qualifying or Antonio Conte in France. They all namecheck the fact that Ireland players will die for the shirt and the fact that they will present a strong, physical challenge. They do not expect to face a passing game and they definitely do not anticipate the kind of challenge Dundalk have been presenting to teams supposedly better than them.”
Giles can be rightly seen as too old fashioned in his views on modern football but when O’Neill does eventually depart, why should Stephen Kenny not be the man to take the helm? The job he has done with Dundalk is absolutely incredible and can not be praised enough.
To build such a good team that have been consistently the dominant team in Ireland while playing the brand of football they do is almost working miracles considering the problems all League of Ireland clubs face these days.
Now, Dundalk are more than competing against European clubs with huge pedigree. They were agonisingly close to a Champions League group stage spot but they have since flourished in the Europa League with a draw against AZ Alkmaar and, most recently, registering a win against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Dundalk are winning admirers both domestically and abroad for their incredible story. They do not just want to be there, they expect to compete in the group to reach the knockout round. The most impressive thing is that ambition is represented in their style of football. They stick to their principles and are as brave as lions in doing that against widely established more superior opposition. There is huge clamour for the likes of Daryl Horgan to receive an Irish call up, and rightly so.
After Michael O’Neill took Shamrock Rovers to the Europa League group stages, it helped earn him the Northern Ireland job and the Euros showed what a great job he is doing with a very limited bunch of players.
Kenny has done much better than the Northern Ireland boss did with Shamrock Rovers and deserves to be seriously in the frame for the Republic of Ireland job whenever Martin O’Neill leaves. The Dubliner is helping to rewrite the history books with Dundalk, and he can do the same with Ireland.
Vincent O’Shea, Pundit Arena