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brennan's brief Why it may be some time before we see the Boys in Green at a major tournament again

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Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny congratulates Chiedozie Ogbene following the international friendly draw against Hungary at Szusza Ferenc Stadion in Budapest. Photo: Alex Nicodim/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny congratulates Chiedozie Ogbene following the international friendly draw against Hungary at Szusza Ferenc Stadion in Budapest. Photo: Alex Nicodim/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny congratulates Chiedozie Ogbene following the international friendly draw against Hungary at Szusza Ferenc Stadion in Budapest. Photo: Alex Nicodim/Sportsfile

When Ireland don’t qualify for a big football tournament, many of our people tune out. It takes the Boys in Green to be there, to be playing Italy or Spain in an 8pm kick-off with people packing the pubs, to get the juices flowing for the non-football and non-sport sector of the population. Then we all join in to a celebration of being Irish.

It may be a while before we have another of those parties. Irish football is at a low ebb right now, our players are not at the top clubs, and far too many of Stephen Kenny’s squad are looking at taking a big decision in their professional lives in two or three weeks' time. Which is: ‘do I drop down a division to get regular football?’, the alternative meaning you get maybe ten starts in the higher division if you stay next season.

Take even Scotland, who got well-beaten by the Czechs at Euro 2020 last Monday. They had players in their ranks who start for Manchester United and Liverpool, and would have had an Arsenal player too but for a late injury. We’ve nobody at those clubs, and those clubs are not looking for our players. The evidence would suggest we are drifting further away from the top table of international football.

And yet, maybe we are not that far away. Slovakia won their first match at the Euros, also on Monday, beating Poland 2-1.

If our play-off against them last October had been a boxing match, I suggest we’d have shaded it on points. But we couldn’t deliver the knock-out blow and then lost on penalties.

Two weeks ago, we went to Hungary for a post-season friendly and again had the modest better of a 0-0 draw, our inability to create clear-cut goal chances being again evident.

Hungary, on Tuesday, went out and simply put up a red wall against Portugal 48 hours ago. They made no attempt to construct an attack of any sort, simply stuck with their defensive plan and dared a Portuguese side full of class to get a goal.

Eventually, Portugal scored in the 83rd minute, but only via a lucky deflection, before Cristiano Ronaldo finished the job off with two goals.

Now before you complain about an Irish football writer giving out about any national team playing defensively, yes, we did in our day. But we tried to attack in our own way, getting people forward and into the game off a John Aldridge or Robbie Keane flick, or a Niall Quinn header down.

Hungary offered absolutely nothing in their game and looked the poorest team at the tournament so far. At least the debutants, the Finns and the North Macedonians, scored a goal and tried to do something.

Maybe, as Covid eases out of our lives, there will be a change in fortunes and things will improve for Irish football. But the national team still has no sponsor, UEFA paid grants early to the FAI, to get it out of its 2019 and 2020 troubles, which means development grants will not be plentiful in the next few years, and our young players are not getting enough game time at their clubs to improve.

Maybe things can only get better. But would you have a lot of money on Irish fans enjoying bratwurst and bier at Euro 2024 in Germany watching their team? I wouldn’t!

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