Steven Reid: 'It might be time to give Stephen Ireland a call'
THE lads will just want to get home now. They'll say all the right things about playing for pride tonight and putting on a show for the fans, but they'll be desperate for a break from football. And, for the senior boys, there are big decisions to make about their future.
I've heard murmurs about Shay, Robbie, Duffer and Richard Dunne retiring from international football and it wouldn't surprise me if a couple of them knocked it on the head.
They might prefer to take time and discuss it with their families, and they'll probably have discussed it among themselves too.
It's a big decision, and it's different from 2002, when Quinny, Steve Staunton and Alan Kelly really had reached the end. They knew the country was in safe hands with the quality coming through, the likes of Robbie and Duffer.
I don't think that class of players are coming through now, and that's a real worry.
Just look at the top of the Premier League table.
We don't have lads that are playing with Manchester United or Manchester City or the clubs that are up there fighting for trophies.
And, to me, that's a bigger issue than discussing the tactics Giovanni Trapattoni might employ in the World Cup qualifiers. He identified a system to bring us to the finals and it doesn't seem like he's going to radically change it. After all, he's 73 years old, so he's not suddenly going to change his philosophy on the game.
Yes, we are being exposed by technically better sides. But if we really have ambitions to compete with them, then we need to have three to four top-class Premier League performers to really make a case for change.
James McCarthy has a chance. He's got to play a big part now. I've been really been impressed with him when I've faced him. James is comfortable on the ball, has good vision, and I know a few of the boys at Wigan think he's a real player. The lads in the Ireland squad I know have said it too -- they can see it in training. He's been linked with a couple of big clubs, and he could be one to progress to that next level.
Ciaran Clark at Aston Villa is another with prospects, but there's someone else on their books that we need to be looking at again, and that's Stephen Ireland (left).
I know it would be controversial, and the effort would have to initially come from his side if he was to return. But I noticed a maturity in Stephen towards the end of the season.
He put the head down, and stayed out of the papers for the wrong reasons. We have to be honest. There's still a lot of anger towards him from supporters, but the bigger picture is our pool of talent. Players like him are few and far between and now might be the right time for a comeback.
Almost five years have passed (since his last game in a green shirt, a qualifier in which he scored against Slovakia). At the very least, it's worth having a chat about.
Trapattoni has to look at some options for the long-term tonight. Keiren Westwood, James McClean and Darron Gibson are three names that spring to mind. And some of the other boys are bound to be tired after the Spain game.
I felt sorry for them. Spain owned the ball so much, and were so sharp in possession, we spent so much time chasing them and closing down, that when we got hold of it, there was no energy left. The amount of times we gave the ball away cheaply was frightening.
It's the Croatia game that will kill them when they look back.
I see that Trapattoni is suggesting there was lack of leadership, but that shouldn't be the case with the experience that's in the team.
There's a school of thought that tiredness was a factor, and I keep coming back to the start of the Croatia match.
We just didn't get amongst them, didn't pressure them, and whether that's tiredness or nervousness, I don't know.
But there will definitely be regrets, and that's before you consider the nature of some of the goals we conceded. Shay worked hard to get fit, and he'll be disappointed with how its gone for him.
So, this will be a difficult game tonight.
Trapattoni needs to freshen the legs, but it'll be a challenge to freshen the minds. When you're playing for nothing, it's hard to find the adrenaline to muster that extra effort no matter what you say.
It would be nice to go out on a high, but the most important thing for Irish football now is to figure out what the plan is for August, when they play Serbia in a friendly.