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Aggression is as vital as possession


Teemu Pukki of Finland loses out to Ireland’s Shane Duffy during the UEFA Nations League B match at Helsingin Olympiastadion in Helsinki, Finland

Teemu Pukki of Finland loses out to Ireland’s Shane Duffy during the UEFA Nations League B match at Helsingin Olympiastadion in Helsinki, Finland

Teemu Pukki of Finland loses out to Ireland’s Shane Duffy during the UEFA Nations League B match at Helsingin Olympiastadion in Helsinki, Finland

When I played for Ireland, the one thing I really hated was someone telling me we'd played well in a game we'd not managed to win.

Hearing nice things being said didn't matter one bit if we hadn't got the result we needed from the game. And I don't think this management team will be patting themselves on the back. They'll be aware of the situation Ireland are in, that they are changing a style but there needs to be more to it than we have seen so far.

Ireland have changed the way they play under Stephen Kenny and there is encouragement to be drawn from the way the are passing the ball.

But I think there is a danger that you get obsessed with changing the style of play ahead of what football is meant to be about - winning games.

I think back to the Slovakia game last week. Ireland played better than Slovakia, but we didn't win, and that's a problem.

For me, it's not good enough to walk away and say 'well, we can take away the positives' if we didn't win the game.

The Euros are in Dublin next year, and we won't be there. Slovakia are still in contention but after beating Ireland, Slovakia went and lost to Scotland and lost at home to Israel. Slovakia are not a good side.

So we have to be careful that we don't accept our team out-passing average international teams but not winning, patting ourselves on the back for the positives that are there. I know what it's like to be in an Ireland dressing room when you lose and can't picture Darren Randolph, Shane Duffy and Jeff Hendrick coming away from this week thinking 'well that was really positive'. We had no wins in three.

I am fully supportive of trying to play a more open style of football, keeping possession better... but not at the cost of results.

An Ireland team that was a bit more direct, a bit more aggressive, would have beaten Slovakia.

I understand there is a process of development with the team before the manager and his staff can get them to where they want to be, with different phases in that process, but we had a chance to get to a final, where we would play Northern Ireland to get to the Euros, and we missed it, massively.

The Wales match was a nothing game as the players were tired, there were players missing and Wales didn't play that well. Finland beat us at home and away, and yet people are saying there are positives from the week.

There needs to be some reality where you ask, where are the positives? Is it because we have passed the ball better?

That's not enough for me, and that's not a case of me trying to put pressure on the manager and his staff.

This is not me as a former player criticising the players who are trying their best at a difficult time.

We have seen a change in style but, five games in, I don't see it as being as positive as it's being made out.

I know that the lads I played with who are on the staff now, Damien Duff and Keith Andrews, feel the same way about being praised after a defeat, they'll hate that feeling of not winning.

But you'd hope the idea doesn't seep into the group where it's ok to be playing nice football, where you pass the ball well but don't win.

There have been nice passages of play, where Ireland passed the ball out from the back, but we're not dominating games or teams.

So it's a danger for Ireland to get complacent about having possession.

Possession can be about pinning a team back in their own penalty area and knocking the ball from side to side, not letting the opposition out.

What we are doing is playing in front of the opposition in our own half. That's possession, but possession for the sake of it: it doesn't affect the game in the danger areas.

I think Stephen Kenny and his staff will look back at it all, they'll know they had a start and they have the players moving the ball better... but the next phase is for the staff, and players, to up the tempo with the passing, move the ball quicker, be more effective with the ball.

But the management can't sit back after these five games and feel it's all positive, there needs to be an impact to what we are doing, there needs to be more to it than that. You can't emphasise the chances you missed, as Finland had some decent chances on Wednesday night as well.

It's not all about the manager and the staff, players have a responsibility too.

Aaron Connolly is still young, still learning the game, but when you play at that level you are judged that that level: you are not a young player coming through, you are on that stage of senior international football and if you're there you need to make the right decisions.

That what makes an average team into a good one, players in the right positions making the right decisions, and the players need to take responsibility for their own performances.

But maybe the staff need to give the players more guidance on how to make it complete, how to do it in the final third - can they add the final piece to the jigsaw?

Looking back at the three games this week, it's very hard to pick out a player who had a bad performance, they all played reasonably well. They passed the ball.. but they just lacked that bit of quality, that bit of know-how, to go and win an international game.

Even with this passing style of football, you need aggression as well and we have lacked something in the last three games.

You have to make an impact, not just pass the ball, you need to be causing harm to the other team.

I hope it comes but I don't see that with Ireland right now.