Irish Times view on the fickle fortunes of Ireland’s soccer and rugby teams

In the space of three days, the Aviva stadium went from the desolate to the sensational

Former Ireland manager Martin O’Neill who on Wednesday stepped down after five years in charge. Photograph: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

Former Ireland manager Martin O’Neill who on Wednesday stepped down after five years in charge. Photograph: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

 

In the space of three days, the Aviva stadium hosted two startlingly different occasions. Ireland’s sensational victory over the New Zealand All-Blacks last Saturday night was heralded as an unforgettable moment for Irish rugby. The final minute, when the crowd sang The Fields of Athenry as though to help repel wave after wave of New Zealand attack, captured an electrifying connection between team and supporters. It was spine-tingling.

Just two nights earlier, the Republic of Ireland football team played out a 0-0 draw against Northern Ireland. There was a desolate feel about the stadium. Ireland’s supporters were dismayed by the latest in a series of underwhelming results and by the absence of adventure or creativity. The jagged rivalry between the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland teams couldn’t save the occasion. It proved to be the final home game for Ireland manager Martin O’Neill who on Wednesday stepped down after five years in charge.

The contrast between the euphoria – and full house – at the rugby international and the bleak atmosphere throughout the soccer derby may have shocked O’Neill’s employers in the FAI into the conviction that an instant change had become necessary. Meanwhile, Irish rugby supporters are hoping that national team coach Joe Schmidt will opt to stay in his role after next season.

The challenges facing Irish rugby and Irish soccer could not be more different. The rugby team will prepare for the Six Nations as Grand Slam champions and are touted as potential winners of next autumn’s world cup. Dealing with that expectation will be challenge for Schmidt’s team. The FAI, meantime, is on the cusp of appointing a new manager for the senior team.

Success in team sport is heavily dependent on momentum. Three years ago, Martin O’Neill’s team generated extraordinary emotion when they defeated then world champions Germany. Holding on to that thrust can be an elusive trick in any sport. It is the task that will face Ireland’s rugby team throughout next year’s attempt at reaching the summit of the sport.

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