OpinionPaul McGrath

I hope I'm wrong but I think we're gone

Paul McGrathBy Paul McGrath
I hope I'm wrong but I think we're gone

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill might not have been too happy with me as I suggested Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2016 went up in smoke with the 1-1 draw against Scotland.

I was speaking in one of the lounges at the Aviva Stadium after the game and made the point that I felt we had blown our chances of making it through to the finals.

Martin spoke straight after me on the same stage and, of course, he had to differ with my view, but that is the unfortunate reality of the situation we now find ourselves in.

While we would expect the Ireland manager to continue to promote the dream of European qualification, I felt the Scotland game was a must-win if we were going to keep those hopes alive.

Not for the first time, we came up short of a victory in a game that really mattered.

We started the game well and showed a bit of aggression and intent, but that deflected goal on the stroke of half time was a killer blow for us and we didn’t really look like getting the winner that would have put the qualification campaign back on track.

Now we are looking for some kind of improbable result against Germany at home or away in Poland next October to have a realistic shot at a top-three finish in Group D.

And having watched the games against England and Scotland in the last couple of weeks, it is clear to me that something new is needed in the Ireland team.

The post-mortems on what is going wrong have been going on all week, and the biggest factor for me is this – we are lacking leaders who can drive a team forward when they are needed most.

Big personalities like Kevin Moran pulled me through games at times with his vocal encouragement and the same kind of qualities were in evidence when Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane were dragging Ireland through games.

I played with Bryan Robson and Keano and they both had an ability to shout and scream at their team-mates and almost frighten them into performing, but Ireland don’t have a figure of that ilk that they can call upon right now.

John O’Shea is playing as well as ever at the heart of defence and he does his best to offer a vocal presence on the field, but we don’t have a squad of characters who show real passion for the cause, and you need that at times.

The lads pulling on the Ireland shirt are giving their all to the cause and we could never fault their effort, but you need a guy like Keane to demand that everything goes through him on the pitch and then others respond to that kind of encouragement.

James McCarthy is one of the players who is not quite realising the potential we all wanted to see from him as he made his way through the ranks at Wigan.

McCarthy had a bit of the Keano look to him in his formative years. He appeared to be a kid who had the potential to develop into a star of the Ireland team, a player who could dominate matches.

Sadly, he has not quite managed to step up to that level so far and we saw another example of him failing to grasp a game last weekend. The criticism aimed at him after the match highlighted the disappointment some have felt about his performances.

Comparing someone to Roy Keane means they have a high bar to reach, but I would have been hopeful that having the man himself as part of the Ireland coaching set-up would have been good for James, as he looks to develop into a top international player.

He strikes me as a polite and quiet young man and, while there is nothing wrong with that – I was never a shouter and a screamer on the pitch after all – you need a presence that lets the opposition know you are ready for the battle.

It has all been a little too safe from McCarthy in his Ireland career so far and maybe he needs someone in the midfield with him that has a bit of bite in the challenge and a feisty attitude to go with it.

Injuries have not helped as he has missed a lot of Ireland matches over the last few years, but James has yet to turn in a performance in a green shirt that makes you think he is a guy who can carry the team towards a brighter future.

McCarthy is not alone in coming up short in an Ireland team that is sliding down the FIFA rankings, and that means we are likely to continue to get tough draws as we look to get our national team back in the mix for big tournaments.

I sincerely hope I am wrong – but I fear my pessimism will prove to be justified.