Monday 23 September 2019

Declan Lynch: 'Once more we find ourselves marvelling at the FAI 'galacticos''

Declan Lynch's FAI diary

It has been some time since I wrote that "the FAI is the dysfunctional sporting body that other dysfunctional sporting bodies call 'the galacticos'." And since then, there have been several times when it seemed appropriate to take that one down, and send it out there again - maybe there will never be a time, when it is not appropriate.

So it seems like a very FAI thing to do, to have its latest meltdown in these days when another major sporting body - which actually shares a stadium with it - is toasting itself and its most glorious victory, high on the improbability of it all.

Indeed the IRFU seems to be organising its financial arrangements for the same stadium with considerably more success than the FAI has had in that area. And perhaps that prudent management, and the peace of mind which it brings, contributes in some small way to the ability of the men of rugby to beat the All Blacks, while the football men are presenting us with a deeply disturbing moral defeat against Northern Ireland.

Yet there are other things too which contribute to that sense of well-being, things to which the FAI does not have access - it should be noted, for example, that the success of the Ireland rugby team is an extraordinarily accurate reflection of the success of the Irish ruling class in general, in so many of their endeavours.

One might have supposed that the Great Crash would have diminished them somewhat - but if anything, our "professional" people have come out of it even stronger than they were already, with a new confidence in their immunity from life's vicissitudes.

So a guy who learned his rugby at one of our private schools will be able to look at the guy who is his English counterpart, or at any other guy he might ever have to face, and feel not the slightest twinge of inferiority of any kind - with Paddy there are always issues of self-esteem fluttering on the outskirts of his consciousness, but Paddy at the high end of Irish rugby has had it trained out of him. Bred out of him.

He will know with absolute certainty that he has lacked for nothing, that the culture which formed him is one of abundance, that the system works for him. The same cannot be said for the promising footballer from Tallaght, going through whatever system the FAI might have, or not have - and trying to make his way at one of the great clubs of England, where on his first day he might be introduced to one of the lads with whom he is competing for a place in the under-18s, a lad who is thought to be the best young player on the continent of Africa.

Without even trying, the IRFU has access to the structures built up over generations in Ireland's rugby-playing schools - a resource that couldn't possibly be recreated even by the most advanced thinkers in the game, because it doesn't just make them better at rugby, it forges within them these unbreakable bonds of solidarity with their own kind. And it drives their ambitions in a way that was articulated recently by the IRFU chief executive Philip Browne, who intoned that "it goes back to the principle of 'OK is not OK'".

The promising lad from Tallaght doesn't quite have these... shall we say, "intangibles" - and even if he did, it would all be under the aegis of the dysfunctional sporting body that other dysfunctional sporting bodies call "the galacticos".

But he does have one thing that the rugby guy does not have - there is a passion for football in this country, all year round.

Every other sport will have its days of glory, but the football is always there for us. So that even when the international football is poor to the point of shame, it takes little to draw us back into it again.

We realise that to be there at all - given where they're coming from, the systems that aren't in place, or that are still under construction - to be playing for the Republic at all, many of these lads have already come an impossibly long way.

We don't expect them to beat the proverbial All Blacks, to be the best in the world - but given where they are right now, we would like them to rise once more to become the best football team on this island at least.

It goes back to the principle of "OK is OK".

He's coming home, he's coming home...

There was something familiar to me about the news that Mick McCarthy would be the next manager of Ireland.

It reminded me of some previous story of that nature, but for a while I couldn't quite place it, this feeling of vague disappointment - it couldn't be related to the recruitment of any other Ireland manager, because for a few minutes at least, they had tended to give everyone a bit of a lift. And for all of those managers, it was their first shot at it.

Indeed the appointment of Brian Kerr was a joyous thing - everyone was really happy for him. The arrival of Trapattoni carried with it a kind of awe that we would be receiving such an aristocrat of the game, albeit one who would naturally regard us as being very bad at football indeed.

And I was present in the Gibson Hotel for the first press conference with Martin O'Neill, itself an impressive occasion with Mr Rob Dorsett from Sky Sports doing his business to camera, and the hall being cleared of people by security types in dark suits before the entrance of Martin to the room filled with reporters.

In truth, I couldn't quite accept the validity of the hall being cleared, as if Martin was Rihanna on her way to pick up a Grammy, and not the sensible man I had believed him to be, on his way to a "friendly" with the gentlefolk of the press.

But you go along with these things, there's a bit of adrenaline in it.

There was no adrenaline in the idea of Mick McCarthy having another crack at it, we know him too well.

Some of us were quoting the Greek pundit Heraclitus, who argued that "you cannot step into the same river twice", and then we tried to figure out what he meant by that - I mean, you obviously can step into the same river twice, or even three times, so taking the positives from this, the lad Heraclitus may have meant that you need to approach a problem in a different frame of mind if you find yourself revisiting it.

But again I knew it wasn't Ancient Greece that was nagging at me here, indeed I was starting to realise that it was more like modern England - yes, as it became clearer that Mick was coming home, I thought eventually of one Gareth Southgate.

I remember when Southgate was given the job, and I remember imagining how dreary it must have all seemed to the England supporters, how it must have looked like an appointment made for corporate convenience, by jaded executives - and yes, that would be Gareth Southgate who only brought England to the semi-final of the World Cup; Gareth Southgate who is now one of the most esteemed figures in football management or any other kind of management; the beloved Gareth Southgate.

So my subdued response to the word about McCarthy was qualified by this realisation that with most new managers there is a buzz for a little while, and then it stops.

Maybe by skipping the buzz, as the English did with Southgate, the FAI has stumbled across the progressive alternative.

I also liked the mention of Carlos Queiroz as a contender, mainly because it carried the promise of the Behanesque headline: "It's the Queir Fellow!"

But if you had asked me, I'd have given it to Stephen Kenny. Everybody needs a break, and he'd earned it.

It's time to walk away, Roy: you have nothing to prove to anyone

The four greatest Irish footballers were John Giles, Liam Brady, Paul McGrath, and Roy Keane. You might rank them in order, but most of us would agree that these are the four really world-class players we've had.

We would also note with a certain unease that there was a continuity until the time of Keane, that at any point between the early 1960s and the retirement of Keane in 2005, we always had at least one great player - and these days you don't really need much more than one of them, to do well in international football.

But that gap which has formed is wider still, when you consider that Giles himself has stated that if he was in a battle to win a match to save his life, and he had to choose one player to be by his side, he would want Roy Keane there.

So you'd miss Roy Keane on the park, and maybe in his strange career at various levels of management, Keane is just missing himself. Certainly unlike Giles or Brady, his achievements as a player do not seem to have brought him the kind of satisfaction they should have done - the peace that comes from the knowledge that they made the most of the gifts that they had, that they "left nothing out there".

Paul McGrath too has found that peace elusive for reasons outside of football, and Keane still exudes this sense of profound discontent, still having "altercations" after all these years.

Clearly he has failed at whatever he was doing for the last five years with the Republic, but that shouldn't matter much. When you have John Giles saying that in a match to save his life he would want you by his side, you have already succeeded in life beyond the wildest dreams of the overwhelming majority of the human race.

So when Matt Doherty told RTE Sport that he and other players couldn't quite figure out what Roy was doing there (nor could they figure out at times what Martin was doing there) there could be a simple explanation: in football, Roy's work is already done.

And it was tremendous work, and it would be even more tremendous if he was able to look back on it with the pleasure that other men might derive from such a singular career.

It's time to walk away Roy - you know you can do it.

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