Sense of progress maintained despite defeat by Spain

Ireland face major challenges in the autumn but team has recovered well from humiliation at the hands of Germany

Just as they did last year, Giovanni Trapattoni and his players parted company for the summer this week off the back of a 2-0 defeat.

That is where the similarities end, however. While the Italian spent a chunk of his last press conference in Poland blaming his players for what had befallen the team at the European Championships, they are likely to have left New York on the best of terms, buoyed by a run of positive results followed by a performance against the reigning World and European champions that, despite defeat, restored a little of the pride shed in Poznan and Gdansk.

It remains arguable that Trapattoni was effectively a victim at Euro2012 of the ludicrously high expectations that accompanied the team’s participation, with those who found it difficult to give him any credit for getting the team there often among the worst offenders.

Still, the humiliating home defeat by Germany clearly weakened his position and having held his nerve in the Faroes, he has done well to depart on solid ground.


The team’s record since that 1-6 lost to Germany is hardly spectacular but just about everybody associated with it would have taken a run of four wins, three draws and two defeats if it had been offered to them at the final whistle on a miserable night at the Aviva stadium.

Trapattoni has sought to explain away the events of that October evening by pointing at the number of regulars he was without. Yet many of the positives that have followed during the first half of 2013 have their origins in that record defeat.

Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy have consistently been among Ireland's strongest performers in recent games while John O'Shea's related move to centre back has been good for both him and the side.

If many of the changes that night were forced upon him then perhaps they still sparked something in the Italian for he has seemed far more open to experimentation over the second half of the season.

While formerly peripheral players like McCarthy, Coleman and Marc Wilson have moved centre stage, starting six, five and four of seven games respectively, others, like Jeff Hendrick, Stephen Quinn and particularly Conor Sammon have come in from nowhere.

The manager has used 31 players in those seven games and few – Robbie Brady springs to mind perhaps – can have serious complaints about not having been provided with more of a platform.

James McClean might have ended his international career in Kazakhstan or, at least, sent it into cold storage, but through the second half of a season he admits has been difficult, he has added seven caps to his tally, starting four games. Sammon has been involved every time while Hendrick has had far less time to shine but has nevertheless used what he has been given rather well.

For all the chopping and changing, stability has been restored to the team and an air of predictability to their results, with a point well won in Stockholm followed by two carelessly surrendered at home to Austria.

From the manager’s point of view, the tail end of that game was a low point, but there was still no excuse for the way the players left themselves open to that late sucker punch.

Sweden, though, was probably up there with the very best of Ireland’s recent performances on the road while England and Spain, despite both being friendlies and that latter ending in defeat, marked a return of the sort of spirit with which we have expected Ireland teams to battle superior opposition.

It will not be enough to secure the second place finish that remains the target in a tight qualifying group but it is a step in the right direction and so, as Trapattoni and his players take a break before returning for a friendly against Wales in August and then the return encounters with the Swedes and Austrians, there are reasons to be optimistic. That much has certainly changed since Poland.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times