Op­ti­mism not a fa­mil­iar sen­sa­tion when it comes to Ire­land team – Ken Early

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page -

No­body cov­ers the Ir­ish team for many years with­out de­vel­op­ing a thick pro­tec­tive outer shell of cyn­i­cism: I have been hurt too many times to be taken in again, I am a rock, I am an is­land.

Yes­ter­day’s se­cond un­veil­ing of Mick Mc­Carthy at the Aviva Sta­dium there­fore gave rise to a con­fus­ing jum­ble of feel­ings. This un­fa­mil­iar sen­sa­tion . . . is it . . . op­ti­mism? You want to give in, you want to be­lieve – but ex­pe­ri­ence has taught you that if you are feel­ing op­ti­mistic then you are prob­a­bly miss­ing some­thing.

The pos­i­tive way to look at the FAI’s Mick Mc­Carthy-Stephen Kenny “Suc­ces­sion Plan 2022” is that they have come up with a cre­ative so­lu­tion that ad­dresses the Ir­ish team’s prob­lems in both the short and the long term. The plan prom­ises to in­te­grate Mc­Carthy’s ex­pe­ri­ence and knowhow with Kenny’s en­ergy and prom­ise, as well as in­cor­po­rat­ing an out­stand­ing player of re­cent times in Rob­bie Keane, and im­prov­ing the links be­tween the League of Ire­land, the un­der­age teams and the se­nior in­ter­na­tional side. As Mick Mc­Carthy said: “We’re all in it to­gether. That’s the up­shot – John, Ruud [Dok­ter], my­self, Rob­bie, TC [as­sis­tant Terry Con­nor], Stephen Kenny and all the scouts. It’s one.”

All one

We’re all one, a beau­ti­ful vi­sion. But you know you have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­mem­ber the neg­a­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tion: that this suc­ces­sion plan is a fudge, that it sug­gests the FAI board could not make its mind up to fully back ei­ther Mc­Carthy or Kenny and has dodged a tough de­ci­sion by ap­point­ing both. In the jaun­diced view that be­comes re­flex­ive when you spend too much time fol­low­ing the Ir­ish team, this is a kind of FAI ver­sion of Theresa May’s Brexit deal, which in seek­ing to ap­pease var­i­ous con­flict­ing in­ter­ests ends up pleas­ing no­body.

Clearly there is an el­e­ment of risk to the plan – an­nounc­ing your man­age­rial ap­point­ments years in ad­vance leaves you vul­ner­a­ble to un­ex­pected turns of events. One ob­vi­ous po­ten­tial is­sue is: what hap­pens if Mick does so well that no­body wants him to step aside when the time comes for Kenny to step up?

This ques­tion was lightly brushed aside as be­ing a prob­lem we would all be de­lighted to have. Mc­Carthy’s take was, if he does well then maybe a Premier League club will want to hire him, or maybe he gets to go to China for £10 mil­lion a year. And if he doesn’t do well, then peo­ple would have been call­ing for him to go any­way, so it makes no dif­fer­ence.

FAI chief John De­laney for his part in­sisted there was no ex­ten­sion clause of any kind in Mc­Carthy’s deal, and that when­ever Ire­land’s Euro 2020 cam­paign is over, Kenny will be­come the man­ager on a con­tract that will take him to the con­clu­sion of the 2022 World Cup cy­cle. If Kenny hap­pens to take over a team that has come to­gether un­der Mc­Carthy’s lead­er­ship and ac­quit­ted it­self well in the Eu­ros, then so much the bet­ter for him.

A cynic might sug­gest that Kenny now has to hope Mick en­joys suc­cess, but not too much. But cyn­i­cism gets tir­ing after a while. Yes­ter­day it felt good to sit back and let your­self day­dream about what it might be like if some­thing in Ir­ish foot­ball worked out for a change. After the weari­ness of the last few months, we now have the chance for a fresh start.

The new regime will go straight into com­pet­i­tive games in March. The im­me­di­ate jeop­ardy will be good for rat­ings and at­ten­dances at the Aviva. Maybe the cy­cle of for­tune is due some kind of up­turn.

Two-year cy­cles

The fact that Mc­Carthy will be leav­ing in 2020, come what may, could change the dy­namic of the con­ver­sa­tion around the team, ren­der­ing moot the usual en­ergy sap­ping ar­gu­ments over whether the man­ager is the right man for the job. Mc­Carthy said he now be­lieves that in­ter­na­tional coaches should work on two-year cy­cles any­way, and if these next few years work out as hoped then maybe this will be the best model for Ire­land to use in the fu­ture.

And it’s not nec­es­sar­ily delu­sional to be op­ti­mistic that Ire­land have the po­ten­tial to be much bet­ter than re­cent per­for­mances have sug­gested. If you want a rea­son to be hope­ful then think about what Matt Do­herty told 2FM’s Game On last Wed­nes­day evening.

“Com­pared to the set-up I have at Wolves, you could class [Ire­land train­ing un­der O’Neill and Keane] as old-school. When you were away with Ire­land, you didn’t re­ally have that much coach­ing. It was more of five-a-side, or 11-a-side game, and that would be it. The day be­fore a game you would do a few set-pieces here and there and then go into the game. You are kind of think­ing to your­self, ‘what shape are we go­ing to play?’; “You’d have a few play­ers think­ing ‘we’ll play this shape’, or some­one else think­ing some­thing else. You can’t have that, es­pe­cially at in­ter­na­tional foot­ball, peo­ple not re­ally sure on what their role is the next day.”

Martin O’Neill re­port­edly called Do­herty af­ter­wards to ex­press his an­noy­ance at what he ev­i­dently felt was an un­fair char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion of how Ire­land worked un­der his man­age­ment. But Do­herty was echo­ing things other play­ers had said about the regime.

The promis­ing thing about these re­ports from the train­ing ground is that they sug­gest rapid im­prove­ment might be pos­si­ble if the new staff can bring greater clar­ity and fo­cus to the prepa­ra­tions.

If Do­herty wants Ire­land to spend more time work­ing on shape he should find at least one ally on the new coach­ing staff.

Ac­cord­ing to Peter Crouch in his re­cent book: “At Spurs, Rob­bie Keane would some­times com­plain that we should be do­ing more work on team shape and tac­ti­cal pat­terns. Harry would give him a dirty look and launch into one. ‘What the f*** would I want to do that for? You want me to tell Gareth Bale where to run? Eh? You want me to tell Luka where he should pass it? Huh? These are top play­ers, Rob­bie, top play­ers’!”

John, Mick, Ruud, Rob­bie, TC, Stephen Kenny, the play­ers, the fans, all of us to­gether, set­ting aside our di­vi­sions and work­ing to­gether to heal Ir­ish foot­ball and make it a bet­ter place.

We’ll prob­a­bly look back on the mo­ment when that felt pos­si­ble and laugh – great gusts of bit­ter hol­low laugh­ter – maybe the hyena shrieks will al­ready be re­sound­ing by the mid­dle of March. But it was at least a nice day­dream to while away a cou­ple of hours on a cold dark evening.

This is a kind of FAI ver­sion of Theresa May’s Brexit deal, which in seek­ing to ap­pease var­i­ous con­flict­ing in­ter­ests ends up pleas­ing no­body

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.