Sport Soccer

Friday 28 July 2017

When suits and tracksuits collide

Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

THE last 10 days in Irish international football have seen a peculiar type of role reversal. For years under another foreign manager it was acceptable to play ordinary football with some extraordinary players once, in the end, there were enough points on the board so that thousands could spend their summers getting trollied in a foreign country. But, unlike every other year, they at least had football for self-justification.

The miracle of Moscow also changed our ability to play the victim, not because we still don't enjoy a good moan -- that will never change -- but because our luck was such that we could have had confidently tried a Lotto and EuroMillions double.

But the oddest role reversal saw our record goalscorer behaving like a politician and a chief executive following it up by celebrating like a player.

John Delaney would certainly have felt sympathy for Robbie Keane during the last two qualifiers when Keane looked like he was trying to play the game from memory during a severe bout of amnesia.

The header against Slovakia that came off his shoulder and the lack of anticipation for several decent crosses that could have come his way in Moscow were two of the more glaring errors, but it's in the area of public speaking where Robbie really needs help.

Throw a microphone in front of most people on the street and it acts like a mute button and footballers, for the most part, are no different. Before both matches, Keane took the microphone like a nervous father of a bride to read from a script and urge fans to respect the referee and opposition -- all of which goes out the window once the first whistle is blown.

Yet, Morgan Freeman needn't fear a rival for his next voiceover role as Keane didn't truly look like he believed what he was saying. Delaney could offer some advice here.

The FAI chief executive has faced several tough crowds over the years and, unlike Robbie, seems to have conviction in what he says even in the face of scepticism from the eyes staring back at him.

Delaney could also advise Keane on how to win popularity from the Irish crowd which, despite 111 caps and a record 51 goals, Keane has never universally enjoyed.

Yet judging by the pictures from this campaign, Delaney hasn't had such a problem and was mobbed in a train station in Zilina earlier in the campaign when the FAI paid for those fans on board to make the journey from Bratislava where they mistakenly believed the game was going to take place.

Those who booked Barcelona in error for next month's game in Andorra might be hoping for similar generosity if they are lucky enough to get tickets. As it stands, Delaney has said he will watch the game in Barcelona with Ireland's fans, which perhaps is a tactic Keane should try after he retires.

But it's in the area of celebrations that Keane could repay the favour. Against Scotland earlier this year, Paul McShane made a run so good that it deserved to wrest the Ginger Pele nickname away from Gary Doherty before passing to Keane, who went on to score. The finish was impressive but McShane's run barely merited acknowledgement from Keane as he headed off in 'it's all about me' celebration.

Last Tuesday in Moscow, Delaney did the post-match equivalent of tapping the ball into an open goal when he went to the 700 or so Irish fans in the Luzhniki Stadium. Despite not having spilt blood, sweat or marker ink for the cause, Delaney whipped off his tie and threw it to the crowd, some of whom had spent much of the previous two hours bemoaning Robbie's performance but seemed happy to battle for Delaney's tie rather than avoiding it like a hand grenade.

Yet if one of the luckiest points ever earned in international football is deemed worthy of throwing an item of clothing to the fans, what will happen if Ireland actually qualify at the Aviva Stadium next month?

Having apparently established popularity with the Zilina and Moscow crowds, Delaney is unlikely to face the kind of retrospective hostility as Charles Haughey did when he won the 1987 Tour de France and met that Dublin fella in a yellow jersey on the podium.

Given that it wasn't just Delaney who appointed Trapattoni -- and Steve Staunton before him -- the rest of the FAI board may also need to get in celebration training so that supporters have the opportunity to show their appreciation. If they are in the premium seats, perhaps they could clank the empty one next to them to make a bit of noise.

We'll know how well the role reversal has gone if the conviction of Robbie's pre-match speech can rouse supporters to respect the referee. Following on from that, three points could ensure qualification and the sight of Robbie leading the FAI management board through a series of celebratory cartwheels across the turf in a perfect marriage of the worlds of suits and tracksuits.

Irish Independent

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