The FAI have just tat­tooed ‘ah sure it’ll do’ on the face of Ir­ish foot­ball

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - EAMONN SWEENEY

ON Au­gust 2, 2016 Stephen Kenny mas­ter­minded Dun­dalk’s fa­mous 3-0 Europa League vic­tory against BATE Borisov, a club who the pre­vi­ous sea­son had de­feated Roma and in the cou­ple of sea­sons be­fore that had beaten Ath­letic Bil­bao and Bay­ern Mu­nich. Seven days later Mick Mc­Carthy steered Ip­swich Town to de­feat by League Two’s Steve­nage in the League Cup.

Kenny was com­pet­ing against teams whose bud­gets mas­sively out­weighed Dun­dalk’s. Yet he earned the League of Ire­land its first vic­tory in the Europa League group stages, beat­ing a Mac­cabi Tel Aviv team who the fol­low­ing sea­son de­feated Vil­lar­real. De­spite be­ing ham­pered by an in­sane do­mes­tic sched­ule, Dun­dalk twice nearly upset the mighty Zenit St Peters­burg. Mick Mc­Carthy’s most no­table achieve­ment that sea­son was get­ting Ip­swich beaten by non­league Lin­coln City in the FA Cup.

In re­cent sea­sons Dun­dalk have set all-time points and goalscor­ing records in the League of Ire­land. Ip­swich have spent most of that time in the bot­tom half of the Cham­pi­onship. Their 16th place two sea­sons ago was their worst league fin­ish in 48 years. Last sea­son they sacked Mick Mc­Carthy. He’s been out of a job since. No­body was in any hurry to em­ploy him.

At least not till this week when the FAI de­cided that Mick Mc­Carthy, the man who lost to Steve­nage and Lin­coln, was a bet­ter choice for the Ire­land job than Stephen Kenny, the man who beat BATE Borisov and Mac­cabi Tel Aviv.

The ap­point­ment of Mc­Carthy as Ir­ish man­ager is a dis­as­trous de­ci­sion for foot­ball in this coun­try. Above all, it’s one which will only in­crease pub­lic cyn­i­cism about the na­tional team at a time when the game here needed an in­jec­tion of hope.

Hope would have been pro­vided by Kenny, a man­ager the Ir­ish foot­ball pub­lic would have got­ten whole­heart­edly be­hind. The Dun­dalk man­ager would have of­fered an al­ter­na­tive to the dull prag­ma­tism in­dulged in by suc­ces­sive Ir­ish man­agers. There’d have been huge ex­cite­ment sur­round­ing an Ir­ish team man­aged by Kenny (below).

In­stead we’re get­ting Mick Mc­Carthy. Mick. Mc. Carthy. Are you fuck­ing kid­ding me?

The heart sinks. This is a man who last took charge of the team 16 years ago and has spent the time since com­pil­ing undis­tin­guished records with Wolves and Ip­swich Town. Not that his time with Ire­land was ex­actly dis­tin­guished ei­ther. Has any­one for­got­ten the poi­sonous at­mos­phere which en­veloped Ir­ish foot­ball af­ter the Saipan in­ci­dent, some­thing for which Mc­Carthy bears at least some of the re­spon­si­bil­ity? Have they for­got­ten the way he left the job af­ter boos rang around Lans­downe Road fol­low­ing a home de­feat to Switzer­land?

Yet the FAI be­lieve he’ll put Ir­ish foot­ball back on track. This idea that you can for­get the prob­lems of the present by try­ing to re­turn to the imag­i­nary glo­ries of the past seems a pop­u­lar one at the mo­ment. Mick Mc­Carthy will be the Ja­cob Rees-Mogg of Ir­ish foot­ball. While we’re at it why not bring back Mick Byrne as physio, re­place the na­tional an­them with ‘Give It A Lash Jack’ and ask Mc­Carthy at his first press con­fer­ence if he’s go­ing ‘to put them un­der pres­sure?’

One of the chief ad­van­tages from the FAI’s point of view is that Mc­Carthy is an Or­gan­i­sa­tion Man par ex­cel­lence. He won’t just toe the party line, he’ll vig­or­ously de­fend it. John De­laney and his co­horts are prob­a­bly wet­ting them­selves at the idea of Mick bark­ing at Tony O’Donoghue and do­ing that Plain Speak­ing York­shire­man rou­tine which got old a long time ago.

The idea of bring­ing Rob­bie Keane on board as part of a ‘Dream Team’ is so trans­par­ently and child­ishly cyn­i­cal as to be laugh­able. The FAI have pulled this one twice be­fore. Don’t fancy Steve Staunton? Well, look over there it’s Bobby Rob­son. Un­con­vinced about Martin O’Neill? Sure, won’t he have Roy to back him up?

Now they’ve gone for the hat-trick. We’ve just spent five years watch­ing one un­der­em­ployed Keane hang­ing around like a spare prick at a wed­ding, we don’t need an­other. Rob­bie Keane’s main role will be to pro­vide comic re­lief at press con­fer­ences. But this joke isn’t funny any­more.

This is the FAI’s se­cond dis­as­trous de­ci­sion in­side a year. When Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane were con­sid­er­ing jump­ing ship to Stoke City, they should have been given their cards. It was ob­vi­ous that O’Neill had lost in­ter­est in the Ir­ish job fol­low­ing the humiliating de­feat by Den­mark and that it would be al­most im­pos­si­ble for him to mo­ti­vate play­ers who’d seen him try and sneak away.

Any moder­ately in­tel­li­gent per­son could see keep­ing O’Neill at the helm would re­sult in catas­tro­phe. Yet the FAI didn’t just keep O’Neill in the job, they of­fered him a new con­tract which would keep him there till 2020.

Ten months later that con­tract has been torn up and the FAI will have to pay the out­stand­ing money to O’Neill and Keane. Their haste in of­fer­ing a new con­tract to a com­pro­mised man­ager proved to be a colos­sal mis­cal­cu­la­tion. It’s not just money which has been wasted, it’s time.

While other coun­tries used the in­ter­reg­num between the World Cup and the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships to re­build, a rud­der­less Ire­land drifted. We played nine games, won one and scored four goals. Out of 55 teams in the Na­tions League, only one scored fewer goals than us and only four had a worse record. At­ten­dances slumped and so did morale as with every unin­spir­ing per­for­mance O’Neill’s team brought it­self fur­ther into dis­re­pute.

What­ever your opin­ion of John De­laney’s per­for­mance as CEO of the FAI, there’s no dis­put­ing the fact that of­fer­ing O’Neill a new con­tract was a ter­ri­ble mis­judge­ment. A mis­judge­ment like that should have made the As­so­ci­a­tion a bit more care­ful next time around. In­stead, they once again acted with in­de­cent haste when a pe­riod of re­flec­tion would have been in or­der.

Why the hurry? We were told it would be ‘em­bar­rass­ing’ for Ir­ish foot­ball if we didn’t have a man­ager when the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship draw is made next Sun­day in Dublin. But I don’t think there’s a sin­gle Ir­ish fan who’d be em­bar­rassed about that. The only ones who might have been em­bar­rassed were the FAI.

They seem to have an aw­ful fear of em­bar­rass­ment. That fear was prob­a­bly the main mo­tive be­hind the de­ci­sion to award O’Neill that new con­tract. Caught on the hop by the rev­e­la­tion that our man­ager was play­ing foot­sie be­hind their back, the FAI scram­bled des­per­ately to prove this was all part of some grand strat­egy. The new con­tract was de­signed to di­vert at­ten­tion from the un­sat­is­fac­tory state of af­fairs which had de­vel­oped on their watch.

Now they’ve sad­dled us with an­other un­suit­able man­ager so that ques­tions about who bears re­spon­si­bil­ity for the last dis­as­trous year of O’Neill’s reign can be swat­ted aside.

The de­ci­sion to give Stephen Kenny the Ire­land un­der 21 job so he can be ‘groomed’ for the top job when Mc­Carthy leaves is just an­other di­ver­sion­ary move by the FAI. If you want to know what the FAI re­ally think of the un­der 21 job, look who they’ve given it to. Noel King has held the job for the last eight years. Don Givens put in a decade of un­der­achieve­ment be­fore that.

Nei­ther man was ever con­sid­ered to be a can­di­date for the se­nior job. Pre­tend­ing the un­der 21 job rep­re­sents some kind of step­ping stone is per­haps the FAI’s most cyn­i­cal act of all. It can’t dis­guise the way they have slighted Ir­ish foot­ball’s out­stand­ing man­ager.

We were at a cross­roads. Choos­ing Mick Mc­Carthy con­demns Ir­ish foot­ball to gloom and medi­ocrity and ir­rel­e­vance. At a time when Ir­ish sport in gen­eral is look­ing to the fu­ture, ap­point­ing Mick Mc­Carthy shows the FAI is de­ter­mined to live in the past.

They’ve just tat­tooed ‘ah sure it’ll do’ on the face of Ir­ish foot­ball.

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