Kerr not drawn to sackcloth


Manager's quotes: You get a glimpse of Brian Kerr just as he straightens his tie and prepares to enter the media room from the back. You wonder what it must be like to be him on this occasion. Most managers at this level cut their teeth on this sort of madness. On good days and bad days in major leagues dealing with all the raging idiocy of media hype and volatile fans. They are used to seeing press hounds straining at the leash.

Brian's considerable education in the League of Ireland and in the Irish youth system left him equipped to deal with most things but never provided for days like these. Away from home.

The victorious Israeli manager (it was a draw but we Irish know a victorious draw when we see one) has just given a chaotic and rambling press conference. Everyone waits for you. Everyone wants to know why and what and where and how. So you straighten your tie and walk on in.

He handles it with aplomb, defusing any live questions with a willingness to answer graciously. This can easily be confused with candour but in reality no manager worth his salt comes to a press conference to deliver candour. Brian Kerr is on message. He'll stay that way.

Down in the mixed zone he'll be on message. At the airport yesterday he was still on message. You drop two points and you shouldn't have to go about the place in sackcloth and ashes beating your brow and letting it be known you know more woe right now than the Wailing Wall has ever had to know. Two points are gone. Their loss wasn't pretty. It wasn't terminal. You straighten your tie and get on with it.

Watching Brian Kerr on Saturday night was an interesting experience. He spoke about how he felt Ireland had controlled most of the game, had strung passes together and so on.

A point gained or two dropped?

"Does it feel like it? Well when the goal comes so late it feels like points dropped. They fought hard to the end. I felt we were generally in control but it's disappointing to lose the goal so late. Before the match we felt it would have been a fantastic result to get a win and a good result to get a draw. So we got a good result."

He answers the question but his heart isn't really in it. When you are a goal up after a few minutes against an eminently ordinary side, well right then a draw doesn't seem like a good result. With a few minutes left, having survived three big scares, it doesn't seem like a good result either.

On the tape you hear him turning to Pat Costello the press officer and muttering, "Keep it short." How Brian felt about the conundrum of a point gained or two dropped was answered just as the ball hit the Irish net at the fag end of a dull game. The little triangle of Kerr, Chris Hughton and Noel O'Reilly standing at the end of the dugout turned away as if they'd just seen something ghastly. Which they had.

"We said we'd come and take the game to them," he said. "We weren't going to sit back. I think we showed that all through. They are a big side. Plenty of attacking players. They left out some of the smaller players. Maybe they wanted to change their style a bit by playing a big strong centre forward and so on. It was a great start for us but I don't think we sat on it. I think we took the game to them but in general we were in control. The plan was to take the game to them."

The plan as such hadn't unfolded as sweetly as might have been hoped for. Ireland enjoyed good stretches of possession but there seemed to be a disconnection between the midfield and the forwards. Robbie Keane seldom featured. Clinton Morrison's lovely opener was never matched by moments of equal sharpness. Damien Duff defended well but never toyed with the Israelis. And so on. It would be cruel to call it tame but it was seldom wild and dangerous.

Through it all, in the interviews with TV and written media, at the carouselside press conference back at Dublin airport yesterday, in the mixed zone on Saturday night, he sticks to the same basic script: you don't always get what you want.

Sometimes you only get what you need. A point was what we needed.

He was asked if taking Morrison off and inserting Matt Holland couldn't be interpreted as a retrograde move. He showed some studs.

"Did you think so?" he asked sweetly. "I didn't think so. Clinton was tired. He came to us and said he needed to go off. We put Damien up front and played Damien off the front, where he has played in lots of matches. Mattie is a good player, good experienced player, and we still had two up front."

And he gave the look which didn't invite further questioning on the issue.

"I thought we passed it well in the second half and kept possession well. We weren't as incisive in the final third as we would have liked. There were times when we had an opportunity to exploit the space. It's always about getting a balance between attacking and defending, you know, penetrating passes, risky passes. I didn't have a sense of negativity. At times we had six or seven players up there around their area."

It all happens in a bubble really. Word comes from home quickly that Dunphy, Giles, O'Herlihy and Brady are grimfaced and bloodthirsty like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Sunday papers are already printing even as the round of press conferencing and spinning begins. And very little of it matters. What is said outside the dressingroom is show business. What is said behind the closed door is business. There's very little overlap.

"We have two more away games. We have played three against the three other teams who it was felt would be in contention. We haven't lost. We haven't beaten any of them. I would think we have a slight advantage. You go and you play, you give your best. It wasn't quite good enough tonight. We were caught."

That's business. Not quite good enough. Caught. Overall picture.

"I'd have liked more than nine points. The way we have them is fairly satisfactory. It would be worse if we had won one of the away games and lost two and had nine points by winning three games and losing two. The way we have won them other teams have suffered. If we were to get nine points that was the way to get them. We're under pressure to get points in all the matches. That late goal changes things a little but we're all under pressure."

And perhaps the most candid moment of the weekend came later just as the manager was about to board the bus. An Israeli journalist popped a tape recorder in front of him. There's a message for domestic consumption. A message for elsewhere. Brian heaped some praise. "We're disappointed. It's a difficult place to play. Good result for Israel. They pushed on, they got a chance. The group is wide open. Everyone has a chance. We can do better. We will do better in our remaining games. I'll see ya."

Can do better. Will do better. Sounded like something from the dressingroom.