JOHN Delaney, the chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, says he first saw the writing on the wall for Giovanni Trapattoni's five-year term as manager of Ireland after the hands-over-the-face embarrassment of the 6-1 drubbing by Germany.
"The loss to the Germans last October was a huge blow to us as the score board reflected," he told the Sunday Independent yesterday, referring to the 6-1 scoreline, "but the team and management regrouped very quickly and performed well against the Faroe Islands a few days later."
"We performed well against Sweden and Austria in March, and were very unfortunate to miss out on three points in the Austria game in the dying minutes of the game when Alaba equalised," John added, referring to the injury- time goal that earned Austria a 2-2 draw with Ireland at Aviva Stadium.
"It would have been great to have the points behind us coming into this month's games to ease the pressure, so, realistically, four points was the least we could have taken from these games to keep our Rio hopes alive."
Describing the moment when he told Trapattoni that it was over last Wednesday morning, he says: "It was a gradual process. I spoke to him briefly after the game, with plans to speak the following morning in Dublin. After we had slept on it, Giovanni and Marco [Tardelli, the assistant manager] I think realised that they had taken the team as far as they could go. I've said this before and I'm not ashamed to say it again – it was a very emotional meeting, there were tears shed. We had developed a close bond over the last five- and-a-half years. I have the utmost respect for Giovanni, the manager and the man, and I'm proud of how he has played a part in Irish football history.
"To tell a man whose entire life and passion, like my own, is football that it has to end is very emotionally taxing," John says of the final meeting with Trap at Dublin airport at 9.30am on Wednesday.
"It was only made harder by the fact that we had become good friends.
"After working together for so long, we all knew and liked each other well, but there was inevitably some tension in the air before the meeting commenced," John admits. "However, as soon as we sat down and started chatting, we were able to agree together that it was time for a change."
Delaney had told Newstalk there was a lot of "emotion" when the meeting was held. On whether Trap wanted to go, he says: "He knew that the time had come but that didn't make it any less sad for us on either side. He liked working here, and we certainly enjoyed working with him. It's the nature of professional football that all good things come to an end."
Asked about Trap's suggestion earlier in the week that his successor would struggle to do a better job than he had, John said with a smile: "I think we have to let a successor come in and assess things for himself but, in my mind, we have some great talent in players coming through that can bring us good results in the next campaign. Giovanni did a great job, but sometimes a fresh approach from a new manager can help bring the team on again.
"Since the Euros, there's no doubt that there was more negativity there," he says of the reaction of the Irish fans. "The Germany result was a big trigger on public opinion. I think, as a board, we made the right decision to stand by Giovanni back in October. We were still very much in the running for second spot, and it would have been premature to make changes given our position at that time."
Asked what positive lessons we have learned from this World Cup campaign, Delaney says: "Well, of course, there have been some learnings. Clearly, we didn't perform as well as we set out to. Having reached a play-off for the World Cup in 2010 and qualified for the Euros last year, the expectation was in that territory. The Germany match was a big low, of course.
"But since you've asked for the positives, we have seen the emergence of a group of young players who will be around to contribute a lot in years to come.
"Seeing the emergence of Robbie Brady, Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, Jeff Hendrick, Shane Long and players like that gives you hope for the future – we have genuine talent coming up behind the more established names."
In terms of the next manager, Delaney says no contact has been made with Martin O'Neill. The board will decide the approach and the timing issues about candidates, he says.
"It's not time-critical given the match schedule for the next 12 months and the start date for the next Euros."
He says there were plenty of lessons learnt from the Euros.
"Euro 2012 was a learning experience for everyone involved. Firstly, we have to remember it was a great achievement to qualify. Lots of good nations didn't.
"The draw wasn't very kind to us, there's no doubt about that. Spain and Italy were ultimately the finalists, and worthy ones too. We couldn't be faulted on our attitude coming into the tournament. We genuinely thought we had a chance of getting out of the group – but it obviously wasn't to be."
On the likelihood of the new manager of Ireland being on the same wages as Trapattoni, he says: "Like any contract," John says, "this will be negotiated. Thankfully with Denis O'Brien's commitment for the next two years means we can now go the market with a competitive salary to offer a distinguished manager to help bring us forward."
Ireland soccer legend Liam Brady told Aine Lawlor on RTE's News at One last week "a lack of quality players could turn [Martin] O'Neill off [the] Ireland job".
"To quote Robbie Keane in a recent press conference," John says, "if you had asked me after the Euros where the team was going with the retirement of our senior players, I was extremely worried.
"However, after the emergence of our younger players over the past year, who have made their positions their own, I am confident that we have the players required to bring the team forward positively as we aim for Euro 2016 in France."
Brady also said: "My worry is that our best players are getting old and the ones coming in to replace them are nowhere near as good as they were, and that's not Giovanni Trapattoni's fault."
"As I said," John answers, "looking at the totality of the depth of the players at our disposal, we have some fine young and promising footballers available for the national team. It's worth remembering that all our underage teams reached the elite stages of their respective Euro campaigns last year, so there's more talent on the way."
Niall Quinn said last week that Trap had at least five top players in the prime of their career – Shay Given, Damien Duff, Robbie Keane, Richard Dunne and John O'Shea – and "that stood to him and he was able to bring guys on alongside them. But did he really bring them on so that they could take over from that group in the future? I don't think so".
Asked whether there was any merit in what Quinn said, John says, "I have to say that I disagree with Niall.
"We have an almost unrecognisable squad of young players now from that of the Euros. Only this week, Seamus Coleman was shortlisted for the Premier League player of the month. Players like Coleman, Brady, Hendrick, McCarthy, Long, Wilson and McClean have all grown significantly in the last campaign.
"I have no doubt that they are ready to step up and help the team forward for the next campaign."
Some critics have said that Trapattoni is similar to Jack Charlton – he is suspicious of creativity.
"Our job as the board was to pick the manager," John says. "If we picked the team, as 10 board members, there might be 10 different line ups!" he laughs.
"His job was to select the players he felt would get us the success we all wanted and, with one play-off, one qualification he delivered in those campaigns what we all wanted."