Category: Archive

Failure to close deal in Wales sums up frustrating campaign

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Which is exactly the way they’ll look back on this botched attempt at qualification. Given that the group contained Germany and the Czech Republic – even if both are at a relatively low ebb at the moment – no one was expecting Ireland to emerge as the controlling interest. All the supporters demanded was that the team should remain in the mix until the last round of games.
But a humiliation in Cyprus, a couple of frustrating performances in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and then another flop against the Cypriots at Croke Park meant that last Saturday’s match in Cardiff was about pride, and pride alone.
Not alone did the Irish lose games they should have drawn, and draw games they should have won during the journey, but they lost a manager as well. Steve Staunton’s premature exit might have made him financially more comfortable, but whatever stock he had built up as a coach, has now fallen through the floor.
Don Givens stepped into the breach last weekend as caretaker manager, and while Richard Dunne, Steven Reid and Damien Duff were absent because of injury, and while the enigmatic Stephen Ireland was just absent, Givens at least selected a team that made sense.
Only Liam Miller let him down with a wholly lackluster performance, but when Stephen Hunt replaced the Sunderland midfielder with half an hour remaining, Ireland suddenly looked more lively and more positive in their approach.
Initially, they had trailed to a fine Jason Koumas header, however, Robbie Keane soon intervened to level matters when he consummately finished off a perfect pass by his strike partner Kevin Doyle. Hunt then took center stage to provide a tantalising cross which was glanced into the net by Doyle.
At 2-1, there was every reason to expect that Ireland would comfortably close out the game, however, Lee Carsley and Andy Reid began to struggle in the middle of the pitch, and Aiden McGeady also failed to sustain the level of excellence he had shown during the first half, and the net result was that Wales were able to respond with a goal a minute before the end.
This time, defender Paul McShane was at fault as firstly, he was caught out of position and then he clashed awkwardly with David Cotterill on the edge of the box. If it was a debatable penalty award by a sub-standard referee, McShane still failed to deal with the situation decisively. Up stepped Koumas to drive the spot kick past Shay Given, and once more, Ireland were left with a half-empty glass.
Not surprisingly, things on the pitch were relatively straightforward by comparison with developments elsewhere in relation to the search for Staunton’s replacement. While the FAI has yet to clarify the make-up of its managerial selection panel – that’s if there is a selection panel – we had the unexpected situation of the former Ireland manager and captain, and now media pundit, John Giles, becoming involved in the quest.
With the customary rumor mill spitting out the names of Terry Venables, Gerard Houllier and David O’Leary as possible candidates for the job, there had also been suggestions that Paul Jewell, who had coached Wigan in the English Premiership, should also be considered.
Giles felt that while the FAI was still getting its own house in order, a strong candidate such as Jewell might be offered another job, so he spoke to the FAI chief executive, John Delaney, and asked him could he get in contact with Jewell.
Initially, it appeared that Giles was the kingmaker, however, it later emerged that he had never been mandated to offer anything to Jewell, but simply, he outlined the merits of the position and made it as clear as he could that Ireland job would be one worth coveting.
But did this intervention by Giles suddenly compromise his role as a widely respected media analyst? If Jewell was appointed at some time in the future, would he continue to be an independent voice? Giles firmly believed he could, as all he had done was hold an informal meeting with Jewell, and so did his colleagues on RTE television, Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy. If he thought there was any conflict of interest, Giles added, he would quit his RTE role.
But typically, when the story got out, the FAI intimated that Giles was acting in a “personal capacity” while clearly, Delaney had given him the green light to talk to Jewell. Nothing, it seems, is ever simple when the FAI is doing business.
Back in Cardiff, Delaney held a meeting with six senior players, including the likes of Given and Carsley, to canvass their views on what went wrong during the qualifying campaign.
“We should have a manager who has international experience,” said Carsley. “Playing international soccer and playing at club level is totally different. Ultimately, Stan [Steve Staunton] got the sack, but it’s down the players. Stan wasn’t in Cardiff; he didn’t make any mistakes, yet we threw away another two points. But you’d hope a new manager will be able to change things.”
That’s if the FAI can find a new manager.

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