A bad summer for open-top buses
Well, that’s one thing the lads at Merrion Square won’t have to worry about this morning as the Euro 2012 hangovers begin to clear. No need to book an open-top bus, sort out a ticker-tape parade or organise one of …
Well, that’s one thing the lads at Merrion Square won’t have to worry about this morning as the Euro 2012 hangovers begin to clear. No need to book an open-top bus, sort out a ticker-tape parade or organise one of those silly-billy homecoming events in the Phoenix Park where the usual suspects cheer and hurrah a team who look sheepish at all the attention they’re getting for not actually doing very well at another major football championship.
You know that the post-mortem after this one will go on and on and on. We do football post-mortems very well in this country, though it’s questionable if we actually learn anything from them. The final table for Ireland’s group says it all: played three, lost three, conceded nine, scored one, no points. You can point the fingers left, right and centre – the other teams in the group were much stronger, the manager is too conservative, the manager is too conservative because the players are not good enought, the manager picked the wrong players, John Delaney etc – but there is no getting away from the final outcome. Played three, lost three. What was that statistic that George Hamilton mentioned a few times with unreasonable relish last night? Oh yes, the joint worst performance ever in the European championships. Did someone say “Steve Staunton”?
There are, naturally enough, a couple of red herrings in all of this. The 30,000 Irish fans who saved their cents, sweet-talked their credit unions and made their way to Poland for the craic are a red herring, albeit a happy-clappy, delirious red herring. Fans singing their hearts out on the terraces and charming everyone they met – or overwhelming; some of the despatches from Polish city squares and campsites had a bang of Oxegen to them – have sweet feck-all to do with what happened on the pitch. You don’t win games or tournaments because you have the best fans in the world. You’d prefer to have less fans and more wins, to be honest. And it’s also a red herring to go on about how those fans won’t turn out for Irish club matches or friendlies at Lansdowne Road – that’s never going to happen.
Those fans were there to see some football, wear the green jerseys, have a break from the depressing old routine back on this little island and to relive those stories they’d read or been told (or might even have experienced in some cases) about what happened in Germany in 1988 or Italy in 1990. That this Irish team were a pale imitation of those teams was never going to lower the volume or stop the singing. You could even have timed Roy Keane’s intervention about the sing-song to the minute – and you could have predicted the reaction to this intervention just as easily, as the Saipan split rumbles on.
It would, though, have been fantastic if those fans actually had something other than their own beery bonhomie and good humour to cheer. But again, that was never going to happen. When it comes to football, the pundits rarely get it wrong and no-one but the boosters were giving Ireland a chance in this one. It was telling to see how quickly the national good mood and giddy anticipation vanished in the wake of that Croatia game, like the air going out of a plastic hammer. There was less of a build-up for the Spanish game – even dreamers knew we were going to be slaughtered in that one – and a lot of people had just turned off by the time Italy rolled along. You can only take so much pain of a summer evening.
Yesterday’s news about Monaghan United, though, is not a red herring in all of this. There was lots of outrage about the club going out of business, especially when you compare their abject off-the-field fortunes to the wages the lads in Merrion Square are making. That huge disconnect between the people who are supposed to administer football in this country and those who are trying to get people interested in local clubs and games, a Herculean task given the (occasionally) glamorous fare beamed onto our TVs from out foreign nearly every night of the season, continues to get wider and wider – and this is something any post-mortem or review will have to consider in a cool-headed, clear, sharp way. You could start by rewatching Green Is the Colour to see how things weren’t done in the past.
That disconnect has to change if Irish teams are going to qualify for major championships and actually perform when they get there – we’ll probably qualify for the next European championships, given the fact that there has to be 24 finalists. When people talk about what’s next for the Irish football team, they inevitably talk about the players currently at various English clubs who didn’t get to go to Poland this summer or those who were there and didn’t get to kick a football in anger during a match. People want to know when those players will get their chance to shine. People want to know if the manager actually knows about them.
But what about the bunch of players coming up after that and after that again? Where are they going to come from? Are the various academy and youth team activities getting the recognition and resources they need? What has to be done on that level to ensure a steady supply of gifted, talented youngsters? The fact that the Irish team performed so poorly in Poland is unlikely to encourage youngsters to dream of emulating their heroes and that’s damaging in the long run. You need success of some stripe to keep those dreams going.
Then, there’s the style of football which the Irish team employed. You cut your cloth to suit what you have to work with and maybe the Irish players are best suited in the manager’s mind to the brutal, ugly agricultural brand of football we endured over the last 10 days, where hoofing the ball away is the only way forward.
But football has changed and there’s no room for Common Agricultural Policy advocates in the international game at the moment. Compare the Spanish team who ran rings around the Irish last week to the Spanish team who beat Ireland on penalities in the world cup in 2002 and you’ll see how much has changed. By contrast, the Irish team has regressed to a more primeval state of being. I know some will argue that this was always the Irish way but that only works when you get the points you’re after, something even those who advocate results over performances will have to admit.
So we’re back to the drawing board. The fans will come home, the stories from the camp about what the players think about the management team will be spun and we’ll get ready for a world cup campaign. Will we have learned anything from what happened in Poland over the last few weeks? Time will tell, but time has also told us in the past how that one sadly goes. Let’s hope it will be different this time around, but I don’t think anyone will be holding their breath about that.