The contradictory views taken by Irish football fans have inflated our opinions on the ability of the current international team.
In a recent re-run of an episode of Moone Boy, set during Italia 90, Martin Moone’s mother, Debra, proudly alludes to the fact that the performances of the Irish soccer team during that tournament, acted as a engine for the nation to step out of England’s shadow. Similarly in Roddy Doyle’s book ‘The Van’, there is a sense of sporting nationalism, played out against the backdrop of the 1990 World Cup. However, the irony is that while Ireland has stepped out of her neighbours shadow in almost every other sphere, the one realm in which it remains, is within the football world.
The Irish management, outside of a small number of exceptions, selects its players from the English league structure. The so called ‘granny rule’ has allowed Ireland to remain competitive by selecting players who descend from the Irish diaspora. Our pursuit of players such as Jack Grealish, Jamie O’Hara or even Clinton Morrisson, only underlines how dependent the Irish team is on English clubs. Many supporters of the League of Ireland bemoan the fact that Irish people travel to England in their thousands to attend Premier League fixtures. The only way of reversing Ireland’s dependence on the English leagues, would be the introduction of something so radical that it would probably never happen.
Our support for English clubs is at times blind.
Many bar stool conversations have been had in which discussions revolve around the quality of particular English players. Arguments have been had as to whether players such as Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard or Wayne Rooney are world class. We talk up the quality of the teams we support, placing them in such lofty positions that they enter the pantheon of great teams. Liverpool fans are particular offenders in this regard. However we do so only within the context of the Premier League.
It seems many of us have fallen, unintentionally, for the hype driven Sky Sports agenda, hook, line and sinker.
We than contradict ourselves once the weekend action comes to a close and tune into the Champions League. Almost instantaneously we objectively debate the weaknesses of the Premier League. We argue that the leading continental teams, with their superior technique and flair, will trump the Neanderthal style employed their English counterparts. We agree that Barcelona play the game the ‘proper way’, and ask ourselves: why can’t the clubs we support be run in a similar to those in Germany?
This point of view extends itself to the English national team. We discount the ability of its players based on the merits of their opposition. This is despite praising those very same players when they line out for their clubs. It would seem that we have the uncanny ability to switch from being blind followers to masters in objectivity in the blink of a competition.
All of this brings us to the aftermath of Ireland’s draw to Scotland. At one point in the post-mortem Eamon Dunphy stated that Ireland have a number of players plying their trade in the Premier League. What Dunphy was inferring was that Ireland, despite their draw, retained players of a high calibre. This line of logic is nothing new, and has been used to advance the quality of Irish players on a number of occasions. However on yesterdays evidence, it’s false, as Scotland only started four players playing in the Premier League: Alan Hutton, James Morrison, Stephen Fletcher and Stephen Naismith. Although Crystal Palace’s James McArthur did make an appearance, it was only in the dying minutes. Ireland by contrast started with eight and introduced Shane Long from the bench.
We therefore contradict ourselves once more, arguing on one hand that Premier League standard footballers will not ensure a successful English team, but by sheer force of numbers, it will do so for Ireland.
If this qualifying campaign has thought us anything, it is that this squad of Irish players is average. Ireland lack a cutting edge where it matters most, and rely on a stream of crosses or set pieces to generate pressure and chances. We contradict this evidence and believe that players such as James McCarthy, who some have put on a pedestal, is the answer to Ireland’s lack of creativity. We cannot expect McCarthy, who has rarely controlled Everton’s midfield, to do so for Ireland. We must also accept that Ireland have only won two games against teams ranked above them in the last 14 years, the same number as the Faroe Islands. Despite our expectations, Ireland will never qualify for a major tournament as long as this is the case. The standards we have set for this team are based in our inflated opinions of players, which contradict reality. Those standards were created by previous Irish teams, who now exist in as much in our imaginations as in history.
Perhaps the reality of being effectively out of the running for qualification with four games to spare will allow us to gain perspective. As fans, we need to take off our green tinted glasses and infer the same reasoning we use to criticise England as we do Ireland.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena