Nations League - Only Thrilling When You're Winning

“There were positive things to take out of the game and I’m delighted with the endeavour we showed but endeavour alone is not enough”

  • Martin O’Neill on Ireland 0-1 Wales, October 2018

On another dour night for Irish football, it would have been interesting to hear the thoughts of Roy Keane.  As much as there were “positives” in the performance according to the Republic of Ireland manager, his assistant may well have been ecstatic.  Finally, his wish had been granted.

“I think the players and even the supporters, they all have to change their mentality, it’s just nonsense from players speaking after the games about how great the supporters are.  Listen, the supporters want to see the team doing a lot better and not giving daft goals away like that. I’m not too happy with all that nonsense. To praise the supporters for sake of it … Let’s change that attitude towards Irish supporters.  They want to see the team winning – let’s not kid ourselves, we’re a small country, we’re up against it, but let’s not just go along for the sing-song every now and again.”

  • Roy Keane, Euro 2012

The rumblings of discontent must have been music to his ears after another lacklustre performance - maybe that was his plan all along. Questions have been asked of the management team and chances for redemption are thin on the ground.  Fittingly, O’Neill and Keane are being undone by a thoroughly modern competition.

The Nations League began as a novelty.  What was the point? How many points for a win? How important was a win? After two series of matches, the competition is more than taking shape.  

It take no prisoners though, with the Republic of Ireland now facing down the international first of relegation to League C as well as an unfavourable draw in the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers.  A reminder also that success in the Nations League provides an alternative route to the flagship European competition.

For Irish fans, there was no great novelty in playing Wales and Denmark having faced both in the last World Cup qualifying campaign.  There was also no shortage of cautious optimism, despite the Danes showing us how to play football so comprehensively the last time out, or Wales actually having a midfield.  

One win in nine tells its own story however.  Performances were easy to ignore when results could send fans into rapture.  The glory of an away win in Austria or Cardiff was all that was needed to keep the Irish football public happy.  Now the results are symptomatic of the failings that were always evident with the current management.

“You want to try to qualify for competitions, that’s my job.  If, for instance, I had taken up the mantle here almost four years ago and John Delaney had said to me ‘What we want Martin, in four years’ time is a young side that is vibrant and ready to go, so don’t worry about qualification’ I think we could have done that quite easily.”

  • Martin O’Neill, 2017

O’Neill is a short-term manager working for a short-term football association, which we shouldn’t be surprised by anymore.  Perhaps Ryan Giggs can have a word with him on developing future international players though, given the youngsters on display for Wales last night.  

Wales do have some good youngsters coming through, but only three of their starting eleven play in the Premier League.  Giggs looks like he has a longer term plan to create a squad of players used to international football, while Martin O’Neill lurches from one quick fix to another.  

Three at the back, Cyrus Christie in the middle of the park - O’Neill can’t combine being competitive with blooding young players but he has managed to mix clutching at straws with throwing the dice.  

In many respects he is the manager we deserve, or certainly the one that the FAI deserve.  His contract and potential pay-off means he won’t be going anywhere until the situation becomes truly untenable.  

And then? Either a lucky high-profile manager gets another healthy paycheck, or - less likely - someone like Stephen Kenny gets his big chance.  With a squad whose morale has hit rock-bottom, young players with no experience, and a public not keen on jumping on the bandwagon once more.

On the upside, Germany look like they are heading for Group B, so no harm in getting out while we can.  

Michael Hayes