Tuesday 24 April 2018

We all need to look in the mirror when it comes to blame game for football mess

Irish squad during a training session at Stade de Montbauron, Versailles. Photo: PA
Irish squad during a training session at Stade de Montbauron, Versailles. Photo: PA

Ger Gilroy

Tonight's game isn't even over and the post-mortems have already begun. It's Keane's fault, it's Delaney's fault, it's O'Neill's fault, it's the fans' fault, the referee did us, it's our lack of an indigenous football culture, it's the Premier League's fault, it's Sky's fault, it's PlayStation's fault, it's James McCarthy's (!) fault, it's Ruud Dokter's fault, it's the GAA's fault, it's the FAI's fault. The list is endless.

If, as expected, Ireland crash out of the Euros tonight, then there are million reasons for it. Blaming everyone is pointless; having a proper long-form discussion on why things happen is the only way forward.

Maybe this time we can have the conversation in a calm and rational manner. There are clear structural issues in Irish football, which no doubt should have been dealt with decades ago, but which are finally being addressed it seems. It's labyrinthine.

The streamlining of the underage leagues to match academies with League of Ireland clubs is taking a long time but it seems on the face of it to be an intelligent solution.

The schoolboy clubs have provided the bulk of our indigenous talent over the last century and that wisdom and coaching ability can't be lost, but equally the schoolboy clubs can't dictate the future of Irish football.

If there's an alternative to aligning the schoolboy and League of Ireland clubs that represents the best interests of the players and thus the game in Ireland, let's hear it.

The glacial pace of change does mean another generation of players won't have the pathway to senior football that they need but football politics in Ireland is a minefield. Blowing things up simply results in a civil war that arrests all progress. The truth is that we're at least a generation or two behind and we have to try and catch up quickly.

The former players who all volunteered to be part of the new regime have an important role to play by not simply becoming yes men and photo opportunities, they need to play a meaningful role in shaping the debate in the media as well as on the coaching pitch. They need to challenge the FAI and improve it.

At senior level, we will still be reliant on the Granny Rule because we've been working off a cack-handed template for so long.

That's why continuity with O'Neill and Keane is no bad thing. We don't have a huge playing base and a new manager coming in to take a campaign to get to know his team would be a waste of time.

We have a pig of a group for the World Cup qualifiers with Wales, Austria, Serbia, Moldova and Georgia to play.

The troubled child of Irish football, the League of Ireland, can only benefit from having the best young players being on their books and wanting to play senior football but that's only a tiny piece of the jigsaw in raising standards.

There's no easy fix for the League in the short term. There's no appetite for clubs to be disbanded and franchises awarded like in the MLS.

Until the league can attract a regular local support it will struggle to exist financially.

There are painful truths to be accepted by all levels of Irish football, including those 'fans' braying the loudest about our failures.

The simple act of showing up to League of Ireland games would help raise standards over time. Maybe we are all to blame.

Irish Independent

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