BT Sport pundit Robbie Savage was in the mood to lay down what he considered home truths regarding the Irish media and public’s perception of how the national side should be faring.
The former Welsh international was in Dublin on Wednesday to help eir Sport launch their new season, and with his own nation in Ireland’s qualifying group and with both enjoying very mixed weekend, both countries were very much on the agenda for discussion.
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has been pilloried by many for his team selection and tactics in a weekend that saw the side collect just one point from two matches and slip to third in the group, but Savage feels that the Boys in Green are in their rightful place in the group and shouldn’t be laying the blame at the manager, whom he worked under at Leicester City during his playing career, for not finishing higher:
“It’s alright sitting there as a pundit and hammering Martin O’Neill for not beating sides and not playing well, but if you break it down and look at it constructively as a fan or a pundit, if Martin O’Neill’s side finish third, or second, they’ve massively overachieved.
“Ireland were never going to win the group. Nobody would have said that Ireland would win that group. Would Ireland finish second in the group? Above Serbia or Wales, who’d got to the [Euro 2016] semi-final? Not really. Third? Yeah.
But, the expectation doesn’t reflect that, which I don’t get. It’s like Stoke City fans with Mark Hughes, it’s nonsense….I just think the expectations now from football fans are far too high.
He went on to claim that, if Ireland and Wales’ starting elevens were to be compared, Seamus Coleman would be the only guaranteed Irishman to get into the Welsh panel, with the possible exceptions of Shane Duffy or Shane Long.
Specifically, Savage points to a lack of leaders on the pitch, “no Roy Keane” as he puts it, to drag the team through matches like the last two:
“Who’s going to grab that game by the scruff of the neck?
“Listening to Mr. [Eamon] Dunphy: Wes Hoolahan, who can’t hold a regular place in the Championship. That’s his opinion. I feel sorry for Wes Hoolahan and he does play well for Ireland and he can see a pass. It’s very difficult for the guy to not play week in, week out and then expect him to go win games on his own for Ireland, which I don’t get. That’s what I can’t get my head around. It’s a bizarre statement.
“There’s no Roy Keane, no Robbie Keane. Who’s going to pop up with a winner? Who’s going to produce that moment of magic? Looking around that Ireland side, Robbie Brady from a free kick possibly, but where are the leaders?
“Where’s the Shay Given in goal shouting and screaming? Randolph does ok but he’s no Shay Given. No Niall Quinn for the long ball, [no] Richard Dunne.”