Saturday 24 February 2018

Off the Ball: My gut says Ireland have a good group – bring it on

Sun, food, wine and golden beaches await green hordes if O'Neill can work the oracle

Martin O’Neill can’t be too unhappy with the group Ireland have got for the upcoming Euro 2016 campaign
Martin O’Neill can’t be too unhappy with the group Ireland have got for the upcoming Euro 2016 campaign

Ger Gilroy

In our modern, stats-obsessed world, it can be useful to build an algorithm to tell us the right way to feel about things. Enter 'Germany, Poland, Scotland, Georgia and Gibraltar' into some sort of app that can compute Euro 2016 degree-of-difficulty and what would you get?

Or in layman's terms, was this a good or a bad group for Ireland to attempt to get to France 2016?

It's easy to rush to judgment and get things wrong – and we all know being 'wrong' is the great crisis of our age.

First of all, think about France and allow yourself to daydream about a month-long holiday (work for us) in the sunshine, full of amazing food and wine and with golden beaches calling from miles and miles of coastline.

It could be an amazing tournament; the last proper Euros staged within one country. Shoes off on the TGV ...

Immediate thoughts on Germany, Scotland, Poland, Georgia and Gibraltar were that it wasn't quite the Group of Death', more the 'Group of Something You'd Scrape Off Your Shoe.'

From a fan's perspective, a good qualifying group requires a couple of specific things. Obviously, the main one is the chance of qualifying, and this group teeters on the brink of acceptability.

In World Cup qualifying, Scotland beat Croatia home and away, only to lose to Wales twice. Poland have a superstar striker (Robert Lewandowski) who looks uninterested when he plays for the national team.

The 0-0 draw we played with Poland in November in Poznan was proof that football can be used as a kind of torture.

Georgia will take points off everyone, Germany will beat everyone and Gibraltar will result in some horrible 'Rock-of' puns and bad photoshops.

So, you can't definitively say it's easy, but you can't say it's a terrible draw either. Everyone in Scotland and Poland feels the same as us – third place should mean a play-off. It's a big chance, but, equally, someone will have to finish fourth and be gone.

The second priority for the committed fan is decent destinations.

Gibraltar will be a novelty, but only the fans with the baseball caps that double as beer-can holders really enjoy such novelty trips.

Germany is a brilliant place to watch football, cheap to get to and with a real understanding of fan culture.

Scotland at Celtic Park could be amazing.

Hopefully, Poland play us in Gdansk or Poznan and we're all able to spend a nice weekend in Sopot and they'll throw the Irish fans a parade and we'll find a place that will show the Ireland-France Rugby World Cup game happening the same day. I hear Tblisi is nice in September.

All in all, it's all fairly positive.

I promised an algorithm. I lied. You have to go with your gut. Mine says it's a good group. Bring it on.


Irish Independent

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