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Sunny France Feels a Million Miles Away

by Cormac Byrne

Last night’s performance against Georgia took me back. Back to the end of the Giovanni Trapattoni era, when the crafty Italian had all but accepted the fate of his eventual departure of the Ireland set-up; the final performances against Sweden and Austria were dour, but possibly less so than last-night.

What worried me most about last night, was that in a crunch qualifier at home to a side ranked almost one hundred places below Ireland in the FIFA rankings, Martin O’Neill’s team resorted to forty yard passes through the channels towards Shane Long and Jon Walters.

No room for Wes Hoolahan in a game that screamed out, ‘Give me Wes Hoolahan!’ After a promising Euro’s which suggested to Irish fans that we could qualify by playing nice, yet effective football, last night’s game is a stark reminder that the days of Lille, Paris, Lyon and Bordeaux are all but gone. Sunny France feels a million miles away.

Georgia to their credit (despite their FIFA ranking) are not actually a bad side. Rarely do they lose a competitive game by more than one goal. They pass the ball well, and dominated the first-half. If the away side went in one or two nil up at half-time, Irish fans could not have complained. Ultimately, Coleman’s goal got us out of jail.

OK so we won by one goal, and of course, football is a results based business, but the level of intensity, the level of the performance last night was just not good enough. Throwback three months ago to the euros, heart, passion, intensity – all of the things Irish sides are known for were on display. Last night, nothing was on display. The phrase, “A deer caught in the headlights” came into mind.

In good news, the Austrian camp will really struggle to analyse us ahead of November’s do or die clash, I mean if they watched the highlights of yester-night’s game they would learn nothing, that is of course if Ireland manage to defeat Moldova away on Sunday, if not, the Austria game won’t be do or die, because points dropped outside the ‘top 4’ teams in this group will be fatal to any sides hopes of qualification.

In some regards the fixture list has treated us kindly. First, away to a slow starting Serbia with a host of top players either suspended or injured, we scraped a 2-2 which was an OK result, though most will feel we could have won that game.

The performance in Belgrade was even worse than last night, I read a statistic revealing that vs Georgia, Ireland completed more passes in the first 25 minutes than in the whole game against Serbia, however that comes across rather alarmingly when you consider that Ireland actually had the lesser of the possession last night, at just 43%.

Injuries have been mentioned as a factor to last night’s performance, but I can’t agree that they hindered us that significantly. O’Neill still had a strong deck to choose from, including the likes of Coleman, Brady, McCarthy, Walters, Long, Hendrick, Hoolahan, Whelan. I can’t really see any excuse as to why to why we looked completely lacklustre and in some regards disinterested.

Football is on the up in Ireland, almost 40,000 spectators showed up to watch us compete against less than average opposition. 40,000 of us made the trip to France, while Dundalk’s recent European performances against BATE Borisov, Legia Warsaw and Maccibbi Tel Aviv have drawn combined crowds of almost 50,000 people.

Football is as popular now as it’s ever been in on these shores, and the team needed to reflect the hunger that the fans have shown. 1-0 was a great result, don’t get me wrong, but the manner in which it was achieved was awful.

The positives? There are positives to be taken of course. We now sit pretty on four points in group D, we have two tough games out of the way. Perhaps one of the biggest positives, is that in the three goals we have scored in this campaign, three different players have claimed them. Robbie Keane is dead and gone for this Irish team.

We will need four or five players chipping in with three or four goals each if Russia 2018 is to become a reality, so far so good. Coleman has broken his international duck, as has Jeff Hendrick and Daryl Murphy, if Long finds his form and Walters can bag a few things will be looking up. We travel to Moldova on Sunday, with further injuries Brady, suffered a brutal concussion and Shane Long looked to have been nursing a knock in the final moments.

Whoever comes into the team will need to stake a claim and show some of the passion that was lacking last night. Can we qualify? Of course we can, we can top this group, but the performances must improve drastically, similar game plans against Wales and Austria will see us skinned alive, Gareth Bale and David Alaba won’t take any prisoners, thankfully Georgia do.

Cormac Byrne

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