‘Pass it to a green shirt’ – return to basics badly needed for Trap’s men
It was shameful Ireland were directed to play the way they did against Sweden
In the last week, sport gave us the magnificence of Dublin v Kerry and the majesty of Sunday’s hurling final. In between, Irish soccer gave us another dull night, one that paled in comparison to the excitement of those GAA games.
Leaving aside the frustration of a soccer man, Friday night’s style of play, never mind the result, was a low point in Irish football history. We’ve had coaching courses, development officers and high performance managers to beat the band for many years now, but I’ve never been at a coaching course where the only tactic suggested for a team, at any level, was to kick the ball long and high and play off the scraps.
It was abysmal and shameful that our team was directed to play that way. I wondered what our second Dutch high performance director, Ruud Dokter, made of it all. He’ll hardly promote that Stone Age tactical display as a blueprint for the future of Irish football.
Away to Sweden, the team played with style, possession was retained and used to allow our full-backs advance to link with our forwards and wide men. At times, though, the long punt was used effectively, as it was against England at Wembley, the mix of tactics suggesting a new era was dawning under Trap.
I cannot understand why that variation was abandoned on Friday. I pleaded in the pre-match column for a mixture of build-up play. We didn’t get it. It was so predictable it was ridiculous. Every team needs a plan B. We didn’t have one.
These Irish players are better than the manager thinks. They’re brought up encouraged to control the ball and then pass to a team mate. Simple but effective, when done well. I actually felt sorry for them, their ability and potential is being squandered.
Clutching at straws
So where does it leave us for tonight’s game? Clutching at straws we may be, but a win in Vienna would keep the dream of qualification alive.
Austria have not been great in the group to date, their win at home to the Swedes and draw in Dublin helped camouflage those points dropped in Kazakhstan.
In Dublin, their centre back pairing of Aleksandar Dragovic and Emanuel Pogatetz were vulnerable and struggled to contain the physical aggression of Shane Long and Conor Sammon. But even the early loss of playmaker Zlatko Junuzovic failed to upset their rhythm and ability to outplay Ireland with the ball.
Eventually their midfield flexibility, spearheaded by Alaba and aided by subs Andreas Weimann and Julian Baumgartlinger, began to outnumber and outplay our stuck-in-4-4-2-land team.
One hopes lessons were learned about the necessity to match up with their three-man midfield. With Glenn Whelan out injured, Paul Green’s return could bring a bit more dynamism to the central area tonight. But Wes Hoolahan is still the man to give us that creative passing and ball retention. They appear, though, not to be a priority for Trap.
It’s a pity he shows less appreciation for Hoolahan’s skills than he does for those of his clubmate, Anthony Pilkington. He’s an energetic competitive midfielder, similar to Jon Walters in many ways. But it’s a big ask to expect him to deliver in such a crucial game on his first start.
On paper, though, the team looks a solid one. Friday’s game would have helped Richard Dunne readjust to the pace and concentration required for this level. There’s balance in this line-up, with some neat footballers and rough house merchants able to look after themselves. Let’s hope the coach has balanced the tactics too.
Again, we need to build our play from the back, through midfield, allowing better crossing and penetrative passing. And, again, I believe that McCarthy is the key. He must drop back and initiate play; Trap and our defenders must trust him to do so, or else we’re in for another night of chasing white shirts.
Marc Wilson’s training ground interview alluded to some confusion with regard to the manager’s tactical instructions, but his remarks about the imperative to pass the ball reeked of frustration – and common sense.
Like so many on the team, the lack of any sustained constructive passing patterns, combined with the increasing Swedish dominance, demoralised him and his performance was below the standard of his previous appearances.
The short gap between today and Friday appears to give little time for curing any ills, but some of the changes required don’t need massive time. One 40-minute training session of shadow play is all that’s required for a change of tactics and intent.
After all these years in the game, Trap, please go back to the basics. “Pass it to a green shirt,” was a shout I heard when I started with Liam Tuohy’s youth teams in 1982.
That priority shouldn’t have changed much, even in this era.