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EXCLUSIVE What I see is a team going backwards, playing with a different style, but still going backwards


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18 November 2020; Kevin Long of Republic of Ireland in action against Bozhidar Kraev of Bulgaria during the UEFA Nations League B match at the Aviva Stadium

18 November 2020; Kevin Long of Republic of Ireland in action against Bozhidar Kraev of Bulgaria during the UEFA Nations League B match at the Aviva Stadium

SPORTSFILE

18 November 2020; Shane Duffy, left, and Kevin Long of Republic of Ireland during the UEFA Nations League B match against Bulgaria at the Aviva Stadium

18 November 2020; Shane Duffy, left, and Kevin Long of Republic of Ireland during the UEFA Nations League B match against Bulgaria at the Aviva Stadium

SPORTSFILE

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18 November 2020; Kevin Long of Republic of Ireland in action against Bozhidar Kraev of Bulgaria during the UEFA Nations League B match at the Aviva Stadium

When Ireland got a new manager earlier this year we were promised real progress in the way the team played. What I see is a team going backwards, playing with a different style, but still going backwards.

I watched the 0-0 draw at home to Bulgaria on Wednesday and I worry about where things are going with the side. It was really poor.

I had seen signs of improvement against Wales, the team played quicker and looked sharper, but Bulgaria was terrible: possession of the ball, sloppy passes, you can get those in a game like that at the end of a campaign, especially with no crowd there, but the overall tempo of the game was so slow.

And if your game plan is to keep the ball, you will never open teams up if you pass the ball too slowly. I saw one passage of play in the first half where there were 15 passes but it went back to Shane Duffy, every time, that gives the opposition time to settle back into defensive positions.

When I look at Ireland now, I see a lack of imagination. You want to play football from all areas, play out from the back, play through midfield, play up to the front players. And then every single free kick we get, we just whack the ball into the box and hope that Shane Duffy gets his head to it.

I understand the process, that this takes time. But you want to see progress, you want to see passing, players making runs, moving the ball, interchanges between players … and we've not seen that with Ireland, we're passing the ball for passing's sake.

People said in the past that they didn't want to watch Ireland play when they couldn't keep the ball and it was all long ball. Fans weren't happy with that. But Wednesday night was terrible, no one wants to watch that.

The manager has been very unlucky with injuries and suspensions and Covid, it wasn't an easy time for him these last two months. But I don't see any difference. The team is not asking, are we going to attack down the wings, are we going to play through the middle? They are just passing and passing the ball, hoping that something turns up.

The manager needs a miraculous change in March, otherwise we can't be happy to sit back for the next while and watch it as it is.

We all know the quality of the players is not what it was. But if you have a good team, with the right ideas and where everyone understands their role, no matter who comes in, you can continue to play that way. You do lose some quality as it's not your first-choice players, but our only plan is to keep the ball, play backwards or play sideways.

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18 November 2020; Shane Duffy, left, and Kevin Long of Republic of Ireland during the UEFA Nations League B match against Bulgaria at the Aviva Stadium

18 November 2020; Shane Duffy, left, and Kevin Long of Republic of Ireland during the UEFA Nations League B match against Bulgaria at the Aviva Stadium

SPORTSFILE

18 November 2020; Shane Duffy, left, and Kevin Long of Republic of Ireland during the UEFA Nations League B match against Bulgaria at the Aviva Stadium

I look at how Manchester City play: they want runners from midfield, they want full backs overlapping, there is a plan, a way of doing things.

Ireland are trying to play out from the back, but the centre-halves are staying in their own half and never push up. It's hard to dominate and press up on teams if your centre-backs are still in your own half as you are attacking.

The build up is really slow and that comes from the players and the management. You need to control it and pass it, not control, look up, control, look up. You need to control and pass and know what to do, but this Ireland team looks for the simple pass all the time.

I'd be frustrated as a centre-back to play in that Ireland team, if I didn't have any guidance. There are times when the ball comes across to, say, Kevin Long, and there is 20 yards of space in front of him. He will control and pass it sideways, get it back again and pass it back to the other centre-back, again.

You should pass it across the back to create an opportunity for another centre-back to drive into space and we don't do that. Whether it's a lack of confidence or what, I don't know. If I was to play centre-half, there's only so many times you can do that before you go forward yourself with the ball, go and look for a front man to play it up to.

Possession doesn't matter if there is no end product. It's not as if we do that for 70 minutes and then wear teams down eventually, take them on in the last 20 minutes. It drives me mad.

I hear talk about possession stats but they are largely meaningless. In most Ireland games we have fewer passes in the opposition half, so we are having more of the ball, but inside our own box. It's useless having possession in your own half and we could see that in the last few games. If you give away one bad pass in your own half, it's costly. It cost Jeff Hendrick a red card in Cardiff because of a square pass.

If you play forward and pin the opposition down in their half, that is possession that counts, they are concerned about you. But if we knock the ball around in our own half, with no penetration, the other team can just walk about without being hurt.

I would rather play against this Ireland team that a side managed by Mick McCarthy. McCarthy's teams are physically stronger, have more going forward, they're not afraid to sit back and soak up pressure and then have a go.

The way Ireland play now they don't hurt people, it's too easy to play against this Ireland side and that is saddening for me. It doesn't seem right to me, there's no energy in the team no matter what the personnel is. Dara O'Shea and Jason Knight look promising, but they need more guidance.

I don't want to criticise the Ireland national team, but what I am seeing is not good enough. I saw nothing this week to say we are moving forward.

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