Friday 9 December 2016

Comment: John Hartson delivers welcome dose of reality in dismissing Ireland challenge

Herald Sport

Published 07/08/2015 | 19:48

Former Wales striker John Hartson
Former Wales striker John Hartson

He's a forthright man, is John Hartson. His deep Welsh voice leaves no room for doubt when he declares, with complete confidence: "We'd beat Ireland, we'd beat Ireland all day long. You know it and I know it. We'd beat Ireland now."

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And who could argue with the man? In Dublin to help launch Setanta Sports Premier League season, it was inevitable after the World Cup draw that other matters would occupy minds, most pertinently the World Cup draw.

The consensus after events in St Petersburg was that Ireland caught a break when they drew Wales from the top pot, but Harston has taken a bucket of ice-cold water and poured it over expectations.

"If this was the Ireland team of 10 years ago or so, with (Roy) Keane, and Robbie Keane, as a youngster, I'd say, well, Ireland will thump us, but right now at this moment we're in the ascendency and with the feelgood factor.," he said.

Hartson, who was Welsh No. 2 to Chris Coleman during the qualifying series for Brazil 2014, does not believe that Martin O'Neill, another man he worked with over five years at Celtic, should take the hit for the current gap between Ireland and the rest of the Premier League focused nations.

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"Where Ireland are, and I follow the Republic of Ireland, a lot of the guys, I've played with a lot of them and played under Martin O'Neill for five years, I just think that at this moment in time they're going through a difficult period and I don't care if it was Jose Mourinho in charge.

"I don't think it's really got anything to do with the manager. It's not a fantastic group of players you've got. You're not blessed with great, great talented players. There's a couple in there. That's where you are."

Reality hurts and the view Hartson offers is coldly accurate, although perhaps a tad gentle on O'Neill.

For Hartson, it's just part of football's great wheel. The generational cycle favours Wales right now and Ireland must look down the road. Again, hard to argue with him.

"It's a cycle. You look at it now: we've got partnerships, we've got a good goalkeeper in (Wayne) Hennessy, the likes of (James) Chester who's just gone to West Brom for eight million from Hull. (Ashley) Williams who is valued at £25m by Swansea. James Collins, experienced at West Ham. Our midfield has Arsenal's best player of the last two years, (Aaron) Ramsey. Joe Allen, 15 million to Liverpool. (Joe) Ledley, another experienced player. You throw a Gareth Bale in there, the most expensive player in the world and an absolute phenomenal talent, and I've just named seven or eight.

"And they've got a great manager who they love who went in there on the back of the tragic Gary Speed incident, which affected the players - they were very close to Gary."

Hartson also took a sword to the forlorn notion that Jack Grealish might be the key to a glorious new future if he chooses Ireland over England.

"I don't think he can radically improve it. He's not a young Gascoigne, is he? He's done well. He was poor in the FA Cup final, very poor. He was excellent in the semi-final against Liverpool. He's young, he's developing and I think Tim Sherwood will try and nurture him. I don't think he'll play every game next year, I think he'll be in and out.

"I can't decide for him whether he should play for Ireland or England, that'll be his decision. He's someone that can help the squad, but I don't think he will radically improve it.

"I don't think he goes down as a world-class player right now. Somebody like a Ramsey would, he plays every week for Arsenal, a top player, and it's not me being biased, it's just my opinion."

Bale, of course, is world class but what would happen to Wales if he their star turn had a long lay-off through injury. Hartson thinks they would survive.

Disrespectful

"You know, he is a lot of our team, but it's disrespectful to say that you can take four points off Belgium, beat the likes of Israel 3-0 at home, take points off Serbia and beat Andorra.

"I think it's a wee bit disrespectful to the others who have had to work as a team, as a group, and tactically fit into a system which Chris Coleman wants to pick for the national team.

"Yes, Gareth is a massive player. We are weaker without him, of course we are but I would not say we are a one-man team."

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