Thursday 22 March 2018

David Kelly: The night ireland ran out of luck and excuses

David Kelly

David Kelly

Upon every Euro 2012 official team bus there is a specific motto pertaining to each team. "Talk with your feet, play with your heart."

Ireland's scriptwriter clearly is possessed of a sense of humour. On the day the Eucharistic Congress visited Dublin, a religious assembly of a slightly different hue in Poznan.

Ireland's football leader resembles a Trappist monk; rather than encouraging his players to talk with their feet, he renders them mute.

The Pope may not have visited Ireland but a quasi-papal figure was leading his faithful flock of thousands here from paradise into the wilderness.

Any semblance of papal infallibility he has experienced in over half a century of football has dissipated in appearances at major tournaments. It threatens to unfurl once more on the biggest international stage.

For him, much of this is about personal atonement. Ireland ended as a rabble, not all of it the manager's fault. Ireland last conceded twice in a competitive international when Russia carved them open in Dublin; Croatia are hardly of the same quality.

Ireland are clearly not equipped to cope at this level. Not in the manner that they approach the game, at least. It may be too late to change.

This is Trapattoni's mess and somehow he must find a solution. Discovering the answer against the best two teams in the group -- Croatia are ordinary -- will require a miracle. It doesn't seem as if Trapattoni's life has any more room for miracles.

His bizarre decision to recruit Simon Cox and Jonathan Walters to the fray, ignoring James McClean and leaving his anonymous captain to toil wastefully betrayed a man without the firmest grip on the occasion.

If he could control enough of the little details, all the better for his zealous mission in this tournament, one would have presumed. Last night he couldn't. And neither could his team.

He would not have suspected that the little details would handicap his side before they had even begun to settle into their first major championships in a decade.

Earlier, as we watched Spain adopt the unusual strategy of deploying without a striker, we were reminded that Trapattoni had anticipated a draw there to be his favoured outcome.

Before a ball was kicked, then, the portents seemed favourable.

Trapattoni's foresight is not often awry; would that he could discover succour in hindsight too. But no man can possess omniscient power over events.

His team began the piece as if injected with a mind-altering serum. Even in those few minutes before the Croatians' stunning opening shot across Irish bows, Ireland had seemed almost as excitable as their legions of devout supporters.

When Darijo Srna weaved in from the left, three Irish players were attracted to the man; when the inside pass came, three Irish defensive players were out of the game and Croatia almost took advantage.

When they did, the giddiness of the opening moments was confirmed with the devastating, deadening thud.

The last goal scored against Ireland in a European Championships was possessed of an element of freakery; another strange header, 24 years on from Wim Kieft's spiralling, spinning effort, threatened to dismember Ireland's confidence entirely.

The opening goal mocked Trapattoni's ideal of order; Croatia, for whom anarchy is often the preferred option, particularly with a defence as deeply unimpressive as theirs, were hardly forced to break sweat in compiling their early lead.

Incongruously, the early goal settled Ireland. Spirited defiance, after all, remains their trademark. Typically, for a man cleaved to religiosity, a Saint would intervene on his behalf.

Affirming their positive response to adversity, Ireland established a foothold but it was as uncertain as the local weather.

Because the manager has limited faith in his players as individuals, the collective simply subsides when their ridiculously rigid style forces them on the back foot.

It is not merely a matter of formation. Spain demonstrate regularly that formations are mostly there for pointy-headed intellectuals to pontificate about.

Football, sport, is about attitude. Ireland's effort is unquestioned; their attitude is determined by those beyond the white line.

Often, with Richard Dunne's defiance in Moscow a typical example, the genuinely honest characteristics of its leading characters can supersede the structural faultlines.

Last night, Ireland were simply swamped by the self-fulfilling prophecy that has been decreed by the manager since his arrival at exorbitant expense.

And while it has prompted thousands of wonderfully colourful diversions from economic depression and political ruin, those of us in the bleacher seats are not cheerleaders.

Trapattoni may seek alibis in the familiar strains of injustice that have coursed his career at major tournaments; even on the eve of this game, he hoped luck would be on his side.

And while Keane did have a clear penalty claim turned down by the erratic referee, Trapattoni should remember how much luck and refereeing assistance has helped Ireland along their way.

Ultimately, this was a night when Ireland ran out of luck and excuses.

Worryingly, the lack of leadership -- on both sides of the white line -- may serve to further undermine Ireland the longer this tournament progresses.

One would like to hope that there may be better offerings ahead for this Irish team but yeomanry will not suffice against the collective talents of Spain and Italy, even if both may affirm once more that Ireland's best form of attack is counter-defence.

That or an aimless punt from a goalkeeper or full-back.

Ireland are on the back foot. It's a position they normally thrive in. From this vantage point, it doesn't look like the most comfortable place.

You could say they haven't a prayer.

Irish Independent

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