Wednesday 28 September 2016

Steven Reid: Our new generation can't let Euros buzz be just a one-off

Published 05/09/2016 | 02:30

Ireland players walk out for yesterday’s training session at Red Star Stadium in Belgrade. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Ireland players walk out for yesterday’s training session at Red Star Stadium in Belgrade. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

It can be strange walking into a dressing room when it has just lost a major character. That adjustment takes time. When it's a big player, a departure can plant seeds of doubt.

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I remember at Blackburn, we seemed to go through a spell where we would have a striker that would deliver for a season and then he'd be gone. Craig Bellamy came and went. Roque Santa Cruz started banging in the goals and then he left. Benni McCarthy had a spell too.

In pre-season, you notice that people might be thinking about it. There's a gap to be filled and lads are looking around wondering who is going to step up and deliver. And you better hope that happens quickly because if you start the season and it's not happening than it can really become an issue. Sometimes, there is a hangover that really does affect a squad.

I'm hoping that Robbie Keane's retirement doesn't create that feeling around the Ireland camp at the start of this World Cup campaign. It shouldn't be the case, really. Robbie hasn't been a regular over the past couple of years, so it's not comparable with Zlatan Ibrahimovic stepping away from Sweden when he's still their top player.

Influence

But I have been reading what other players have said about Robbie, the influence that he was around the group. Daryl Murphy spoke about his captain's role off the pitch. I know Robbie and the kind of infectious character that he is. Shay Given has left the group as well. It's natural that there will initially be a void.

Still, what we saw in France was the changing of the guard; we saw Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick and Seamus Coleman rise to the challenge.

A lot of questions have been asked about this group over the past two or three years, questions about where the next Robbie Keane or Damien Duff is coming from. I've wondered about it myself.

In the Euros, I think that group showed those doubters - and I include myself in that category - that they are capable of producing it against serious opposition. They should have drawn huge confidence from that.

I can only imagine what a buzz the summer was for the younger boys. 2002 is still imprinted in my mind; being involved in a major tournament was such an incredible high that we were still floating for weeks afterwards.

For us, the homecoming in Phoenix Park showed us what it meant to the people. The methods of communication are different now. They'll have tuned in to all the reaction from home through social media; they won't have been able to avoid it.

I was 21 then, and naively assumed that this was going to happen every two years. That would be my warning to Robbie and Jeff and the next generation. Don't take this for granted. Don't let the Euros be your first and only major tournament of your career.

You have to take control of this campaign from the start. You can't wait around for one of your team-mates to step up to the plate. This is their time now.

I'm surprised that Robbie is still at Norwich having spoken to people who've played alongside him that are convinced that he can go to the very top with his quality - his range of passing and his shooting and his technical ability.

Robbie is so adept in a variety of positions, but there may come a time where he has to concentrate on one. For me, he remains a natural wide player and, while he is considered a left sided option, you could see him being effective on the right too as he is able to cut inside onto his favoured foot.

Jeff has made a great move by joining Burnley. He's going into the perfect environment for adjusting to the Premier League.

Sean Dyche has created a great culture there. It was a fantastic place to spend my last season as a footballer.

There's no egos in the dressing room and everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet. That might sound clichéd but it's one of the best atmospheres that I've ever worked in.

We went down that season, but it wasn't a case of looking back at that season and thinking about the what ifs because you knew that every player and every member of staff gave everything.

They need a bit more experience and quality this time and Jeff should add quality. 'Dychey' wouldn't sign anyone unless he felt that he had the right character and I'd expect Jeff to shine there.

Approach

Ireland need him to thrive tonight. He helped to set the tone in the summer, when we really gave our opposition some problems when we took a positive approach.

Read more: Daniel McDonnell: O'Neill seeks spirit of Euros to inspire a strong start

And that's the dilemma that Martin O'Neill faces tonight. It's the start of a new campaign away in a hostile atmosphere. Most would agree that a draw is a good result.

But we showed in France that when we get out there on the front foot and have a real go at teams, they struggle to handle our intensity. That was clear in the first half of the games against Sweden and France.

When we sat in a bit more against Belgium, we almost went to pieces a bit.

So it's a tricky one. You don't want to march in gung-ho and write yourself out of the campaign early. Lose a game and it can quickly become an uphill task.

That's where you expect a bit of caution to creep in. But we've showed that we can mix it with teams when we really believe in ourselves.

The new leaders of the dressing room are only clicking into gear. They won't feel like applying the brakes.

Irish Independent

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