Category: Archive

Glass half empty, half full?

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Not a bad Irish XI there. Just one made up exclusively of players currently knocking around the Premiership and Division One who are either injured, retired from international football or out of favor with the manager. What better way to demonstrate that in terms of the future of the Irish team, the glass can be viewed as much more half full than half empty?
This has to be the way to see things now because whatever happens on Oct. 11, Ireland are a lot better off than 11 months ago. Having to win against Switzerland in Basle is a very tall order, but look at how far we’ve come: heading into the last game of the qualifying knowing that a win earns at least a ticket to a playoff. And maybe if the chips fall right, something better still. That’s a decent return from a campaign that began in such inauspicious circumstances with a pair of costly defeats that had everybody declaring the chances of getting to Portugal next summer had already evaporated. Three wins and two draws later, to be in with a shout at all is an incredible achievement.
Sure, the games haven’t exactly been classics, but the benefits of prolonging this campaign should be huge down the road. Had Brian Kerr’s team failed to keep hope alive, the last few matches would have been meaningless affairs and little or no help in terms of developing players. Like the difference between hurling in the National League and the Munster championship, there is no substitute for competitive outings, fixtures where the results have serious consequences. In the middle of what is an extensive refurbishment of the squad, Kerr needs the newer faces to be playing against Russia with qualification on the line rather than in tepid friendlies against Australia and Turkey.
Even if he appears a little bit of an off-the-wall character, Clinton Morrison will be a lot better for the experience of having started last Saturday. Similarly, every competitive cap, no matter what the duration, will stand to works-in-progress like Colin Healy, Steven Reid and Gary Doherty. In the shorter term, it would help though if more of the players available to Kerr manage to actually play regular first-team football over the next four weeks. Traditionally, Ireland are never good at breaking down teams that close ranks, and trying to do so with a team that contained too many players with very few miles on the clock this season was always going to be difficult.
In terms of trying to pick the lock of a defense, the old creative shortcomings came back to haunt too. Deprived of a midfield passer in the Liam Brady, Ronnie Whelan or even John Sheridan mold, this team cannot easily endure losing Robbie Keane for any game. He and Damien Duff are the only two capable of concocting something extraordinary. With only one of them on board, the approach is far too predictable and, for experienced defenders like the Russians, easy to contain.
“Any team’s going to miss Robbie,” Kevin Kilbane said. “He creates chances out of nothing, but anyone would have found it difficult against them today. We knew they were going to come here to play for a draw and their game plan’s worked very well. They’ve sat off and played very deep and it’s not really given us any chance to get in behind them as much as we’d have liked.”
No lamenting of the inability to create openings where none previously existed would be complete without a reference to Stephen McPhail. Once the great midfield hope, it’s a pity he didn’t bite the bullet and leave Leeds United at this stage least season. At least then he might by now be a genuine contender for a starting spot and we’d know whether he’s ready to prove all the hype about his passing ability isn’t just that. As it is, his games on loan to Nottingham Forest over the next month will be monitored closely.
Apart from resuscitating a campaign that was on life support and bringing the team into a situation where everything is on the line in the very last game, it is hugely significant that Kerr achieved all this without the services of Roy Keane. On the two occasions Mick McCarthy brought Ireland to the brink of qualifying for a major tournament, and the one time they reached the World Cup, it was thanks in very large part to Keane’s outsized contributions in the biggest games. Were the Manchester United captain present at Lansdowne Road last weekend, there’s no question Russia would have went the way of Holland two years ago. Getting this far without him is really something to be applauded. That said, we wouldn’t be too surprised to see at least one of the tabloids launch a campaign begging him to come back for one last Swiss roll either.
“We can’t change today’s result or any others, but we can do something about the future and the next game gives us the opportunity to keep ourselves in the competition,” Kerr said Saturday night. “The reality is that we are still in with a chance and I believe we can go there and win if that is what it is going to take. There is a peculiar set of permutations from the games next Wednesday and then in the last games next month, but the only one we are in control of is our own match against Switzerland and the likelihood is that we are going to have to go there and win it to stay in the competition.”
We’d have settled for that opportunity eight months ago. No point in losing faith now.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese