Wednesday 13 December 2017

David Kelly: Time to pension off Trap's tired old tactics

Four things we learned on another night to forget as Ireland's flawed system exposed

Glenn Whelan sums up the disappointment after the defeat against Sweden
Glenn Whelan sums up the disappointment after the defeat against Sweden
David Kelly

David Kelly

Nobody can sense Irish vulnerability better than the Irish themselves.

Sweden did not need to impose themselves on Ireland to any remarkable extent; they were invited to do so by a home team who stand condemned as recidivists in the art of submission.

And at their summit, a manager whose usefulness to Ireland is now well past his sell-by date. Even Steve Staunton managed to last longer in a World Cup qualification race than this.

The only consolation is that there is an emerging group of players who may be capable of flowering under the care of someone with real empathy who can command respect, not fear.

ARRIVEDERCI, IL TRAP

This tired old script needs shredding. Ireland's system was again exposed for what it is – a relic of a bygone age when football was played in black and white and Giovanni Trapattoni was a dominant figure on the continental club scene.

The game has moved on – and the manager has been left in its slipstream, confirmed when he decided that Simon Cox, rather than Wes Hoolahan, offered the best opportunity to redeem something from the wreckage of this evening.

When a second chance presented itself to the manager to alter the script, he once more decided against it, slavishly adhering to the caveman approach that has become a sado-masochistic straitjacket.

MCCARTHY'S SHY INFLUENCE

After becoming the most expensive Scottish-born player of all time during the week and the third most lucrative Irish international transfer ever, there was much focus on the quality that James McCarthy could deliver.

Sadly, his impact was minimal and, although he would be expected to be involved in more cerebral affairs in the Premier League, his influence here was entirely underwhelming.

Ireland's wingers were hardly provided with one decent thread of possession with which to attack their poor opponents in the full-back positions; this was McCarthy's role and he struggled with this aspect.

Hence Ireland played with remarkable limitation in terms of width which handicapped their fitful attack.

One early move involved about 15 passes – Ireland's players must have been suffering a migraine – without McCarthy once touching the ball. When he did, he passed it sideways to Glenn Whelan.

Despite being robust with the almost pensionable Anders Svensson, when Zlatan Ibrahimovic's influence grew, McCarthy failed to take responsibility and allowed his man to wander.

Richard Dunne was carded for fouling the Swedish master on the halfway line; an area that should have been McCarthy's theatre of influence.

His shyness still remains; how much his manager can coax this from him is debatable.

If he is worth so much money, last night was the perfect stage to demonstrate just why.

Perhaps he was told not to.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

When Ireland fulfilled this reverse fixture in Stockholm earlier this year, there were just two remnants from the starting line-up that concluded the disastrous Euro 2012 campaign, John O'Shea and Robbie Keane, two of the three survivors from the golden generation.

Within nine months, and notwithstanding the fact that Dunne's long-term injury had temporarily edged him from the discussion, the Irish international team had undergone a radical reconstruction.

Shane Long and Jonathan Walters formed elements of the supporting cast in Poland last summer but have since, with the retirement of Damien Duff and the estrangement of Kevin Doyle, developed more significant roles.

Others who were overlooked – or would have been were they available – such as McCarthy, Marc Wilson and Seamus Coleman, have been recruited as central figures to the cause.

The players, rather than the manager, have instituted the subtlest of redesigns to a system that was hitherto unyielding; whether by managerial design or not remains a moot point.

Now is the time for someone else to mould these ambitious young players and provide a broader canvas.

ALWAYS KEANE

After Shane Long spent much of the opening half either fouling his markers or being bundled to the ground himself, it was inevitable that in a game where there were always going to be limited chances, Ireland's record goalscorer would be the man to answer Ireland's call.

Last night's opening strike that gave Ireland so much hope and encouragement was his 34th in competitive internationals and his 60th of his record-breaking career thus far.

It would have been so much easier for the man from the Glenshane estate to take a gamble on the sympathy of the Slovenian referee and tumble to the floor.

But persistence and perseverance, traits which have characterised a fitful 15-year relationship with the Irish footballing public, ensured that he was eventually in the right position to score.

A goal that looked easy to most people watching. But, were it so, then everyone would be doing it. Keane remains the main option for goals in this Irish team.

He will be sorely missed when he's gone – which may be sooner rather than later – because the alternatives are not compelling to say the very least.

Bums must be put on seats, not armchairs. A romantic assessment of last night's virtual full house will lead to dewy-eyed reflections of how the Irish public has somehow belatedly fallen in love with this team, as opposed to falling in love with its ability to provide a summer of cheap booze in Poland.

However, as many people sought to point out during the course of yesterday, the wide variety of special offers and concessions were more pertinent factors.

Season tickets are on sale from almost knock-down prices – starting from €124 for adults and €49 for children – which reflect the level of many clubs in the lower tier of English football.

International football is the poor relation of club football; this match took some 90 days to (nearly) sell out. In comparison, a meaningless friendly between Celtic and Liverpool, featuring no Irish players, did so in just 90 minutes.

Yet few will bother to watch a team who scarcely try to play a decent quality of football – this could be the last full house for some time.

And for a cash-strapped FAI, that is bad news.

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