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exclusive Could any manager in world football deliver attractive, winning football with this group of Ireland players


Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny will be hoping to get the World Cup campaign off to a good start

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny will be hoping to get the World Cup campaign off to a good start

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny will be hoping to get the World Cup campaign off to a good start

COULD any manager in world football deliver attractive, winning football with this group of Ireland players?

It is a question we have asked time and again in recent years when the international matches roll around for our national team and, sadly, I fear the answer has to be ‘no’.

This is not a criticism of the Ireland players, who will start our World Cup qualifying campaign in Serbia tonight, as we know they will give their all and play with pride for a jersey that means so much to all of us.

Yet when I look at the squad Stephen Kenny has selected for these games, it’s hard to see how he can go into this game promoting open and expansive tactics and hoping to succeed.

We all want to see Ireland playing fantastic, passing football and getting the feel-good factor back for fans who have been suffering watching the team flounder since Kenny took over.

Yet the facts don’t lie and when a team has not scored a goal in seven matches and a manager has failed to win any of his first eight matches in charge, questions will be asked.

Martin O’Neill and Mick McCarthy had their critics during their spells as Ireland manager, but those two experienced operators managed to produce some good results during their time at the helm and they did so with a team playing football that gave them the most realistic chance to succeed.

The job of a manager is to get the best out of the talent he has at his disposal and while Kenny’s long-term vision may be to change the way Ireland play and deliver a more attractive style of play, you have to ask how realistic that is right now?

Serbia will have a big share of the ball in Belgrade and without a proven goalscorer in the Ireland team, our best chance of nicking a goal may be from set-pieces. That has been a great route for goals with the Ireland team since my days playing in the 1980s and 90s.

With players like Shane Duffy in our line-up, there is nothing wrong with looking to use his power in the air on corners and free-kicks into the box because, let’s be honest, going seven games without a goal suggests whatever Kenny has been trying in recent matches hasn’t worked.

We all want the best for Ireland and qualifying for major tournaments is what it is all about, but I have to admit I don’t look forward to international breaks anymore.

Football without fans has been miserable in the last year and their absence is felt even more acutely at international level, as playing for your country and giving the fans something to cheer about is so important.

In my days playing for Ireland, there was a huge sense of anticipation around every international match and that excitement was shared between the Ireland players and our wonderful supporters.

Admittedly, they were very different times and a lot of the Ireland players would turn up a couple of days before we were due to arrive in Dublin to have a little party before we got down to business on the pitch.

That would never be tolerated in a modern age, when the camera phone police would be taking photos and trying to create a scandal, but I’m glad I played in an era when you could have some fun and still produce your best for your country.

When we went back to our clubs and told our club team-mates about the antics we got up to on Ireland trips, they couldn’t quite believe what they were hearing.

They were great times and the results we produced on the field, as we qualified for three major tournaments under Jack Charlton’s brilliant guidance, gave the nation memories that will be talked about forever.

As people reminisce about the good old days for the Ireland team, no one talks about the style of football we played and the fact that we went out of our way to be horrible to play against, but that is one of the main reasons why we were successful.

After my days with Ireland came to an end, the era that saw Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane come to the fore allowed us to continue to enjoy some success on the international stage, but the talent stream has dried up a little in recent years and it makes the job of Ireland boss tougher than ever.

If we had managed to get players like Declan Rice and Jack Grealish to build the team around, maybe we could look to produce a more expansive brand of football, but those two horses have long-since bolted.

It means Kenny and his staff need to consider the best route to get success with the tools they have at their disposal and if another defeat is complemented by yet another match without a goal in Serbia, the pressure will mount on all involved.

We have a great crop of young talent learning their trade and in a couple of years, lads like Jayson Molumby, Jason Knight and Troy Parrott will offer real hope for the future.

Yet for now, we are going to rely on the players who have struggled to succeed trying to pass the ball out from the back and slowly building towards a forward line lacking a cutting edge.

Something will need to change sooner rather than later if results don’t pick improve quickly and I’m sure Kenny doesn’t need me to tell him that.

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Online Editors