Comment I fear Stephen Kenny's passing philosophy will end in failure
As someone who once said that I would never be a manager because I couldn’t manage myself, you may think this is a bit rich – but I’m not sure that our new international football manager Stephen Kenny has it right.
It’s one thing to have possession of the ball, it’s another thing altogether to do something with the ball.
Far too often in Bratislava on Thursday night, as our Euro dream died, Irish players passed the ball to one another for the sake of passing it to one another.
Time and again, one of our wide players or our full-backs got down the wing – and then checked back to give the ball to a white-shirted colleague.
There’s more than one way of scoring a goal and passing your way through any international team is very difficult.
At the risk of mentioning a painful name, did you see Jack Grealish for England on Thursday night?
He had the ball out wide – and he slung in a cross and the ball was headed into the Welsh net. Jack didn’t check out.
For all the ball we had, and we’d 48 per cent of it in an away international, there were very few penetrating crosses into the Slovak penalty area on Thursday.
The ones we had were invariably from our old reliable friend – the set-piece.
I’m just not convinced that we have the talent to pass our way through an international quality defence.
Maybe if we had any of Liam Brady, Ronnie Whelan or Roy Keane at their peak, there might be some hope.
But players of that quality, playing with the top clubs, are not available to the Irish manager right now.
Which makes Stephen’s call to go for this type of game-plan all the more mystifying.
I’m not for one minute advocating a return to Jack Charlton’s style of football. That was of its time and worked for us.
However, the rules of the game have changed in 30-odd years and no team would prosper in these times playing ‘put ’em under pressure’ – even if we had the big centre-forward that you need for it, and the willing runners all across midfield.
No, we need to mix it up a bit, to just be a little more direct in my book.But then you have to have the players to get the best out of the system.
One thing struck home to me forcefully last Thursday night.
Yet again Shane Duffy was a colossus for Ireland in a big international. The Derryman was just brilliant, as he has been for Ireland for the last two years.
Yet last January, the Brighton manager Graham Potter, dropped Shane and left him out of the first team for the rest of the season.
Yes, the Brighton boss, struggling at the bottom of the Premier League, decided he had two better centre-backs than Shane.
At the end of the season, Potter told Shane he wasn’t part of his future plans and then 19 other Premier League managers backed up Potter by not signing Shane.
He went to Celtic, a club beloved in Ireland, with a rich tradition and a great football heritage.
Still, we must lay our cards on the table, the standard of the Scottish Premier League is way below the Premier League.
But is the standard of the Premier League so high that all 20 managers in it believe that Duffy is not worthy of a place in their team?
Had Slovakia been able to field a full team on Thursday night, Ireland would have been up against players from Inter Milan, Lazio and one who left Napoli last year after a great career there.
When was the last time any of those famous and successful football clubs showed an interest in signing a seasoned Irish international?
The answer is when Inter bought a youngish Robbie Keane, only to let him go after five months when the manager who signed him was dismissed.
So, if to prosper at international level, we have to beat players from those clubs, without having any such talent of our own, is knocking the ball around to feet, and trying to pass it into the net, the way to go? Not for me it isn’t.
We’ve also just hit a dry spell where goals are concerned.
We couldn’t score under Martin O’Neill in the last Nations League, couldn’t score under Mick McCarthy in the Euro qualifiers and we’ve got one goal, from a set-piece, in 300 minutes under Stephen Kenny.
That’s three different managers in the last few years, trying their best for and with Ireland, and we can’t get a goal.
Until that changes, until some of the obvious talent, that is there now at under-age level, matures and starts to play club football regularly, for me Irish football is doomed to be more about perspiration than inspiration.
It will be cruel, Covid-19 permitting, to see supporters from Poland, Sweden and either Northern Ireland or Slovakia throng Dublin for a Euro party next June.
You’d hope Northern Ireland would be the ones to make it – it would give some taste of green to what will be a great occasion.
But the Boys in Green won’t be there.
We’d a chance to qualify against Switzerland last October, and another against Denmark a month later.
We could have stayed alive in the competition last Thursday night. None of those chances were taken.
After three attempts, you just have to say we are not good enough.