Martin O'Neill and Gordon Strachan presented a united front yesterday. Both managers said qualification places are still at stake.
Both men thought there would be unexpected results which could have a considerable bearing on the eventual outcome of the group. It's still all to play for, they said.
There was nothing else either man could say at this stage, but the reality, as grim as it sounds only six games into a group with three places to play for, is that Ireland's race is run.
There was every chance Ireland's fate would not be known until the final double-header of fixtures in October. Let's not take too much heart in knowing that mathematically Ireland's chances are still high. After all, four more wins and we'll be fine. What was just as likely, though, was that at least three points from those two games, and probably more, would be required to progress into the play-off rounds or beyond. We're now facing the remaining few months of the campaign wishing for a near miracle. It's all well and good to be optimistic and hopeful, but the realistic view would suggest only a fourth-place finish. Talk of anything else is fanciful and misguided.
Qualification requires a win at some point against a team of quality and Ireland have yet to do that. It requires a consistency of performance, whether from the same set of players or an ever-changing line-up. Ireland have not produced that either. We've gone past the point of looking for patterns of selection or preferred systems or grounds for optimism for the future. Yesterday was about beating Scotland and nothing else. By any means necessary, it was about keeping the campaign on the road by winning the match.
Strachan was right not to take anything for granted when he spoke on RTé television after the game. Scotland haven't secured at least a play-off spot and Ireland aren't guaranteed to finish fourth. After all, four wins for Ireland gives a 20-point total which should be more than enough to go at least to the play-offs. There's nobody anywhere, though, that thinks that's in any way achievable.
As to where Ireland go from here, it's hard to say. Martin O'Neill said when he took the job that he would be ultimately judged on whether Ireland qualified for the Euros.
At the time, it seemed unthinkable that a 24-team tournament would be staged in Europe without Ireland in it. At the time, he sounded very reasonable when he told a packed press conference on his first day in the job that he wouldn't expect to be kept on beyond his existing contract if that were to happen.
That's where we are, though. The search for his successor should begin behind closed doors within the FAI. O'Neill and his backroom staff have failed to deliver what they were employed to deliver and that's what matters.
It was billed as the dream ticket of Irish management, but O'Neill and Keane have done nothing that warrants any more investment from Denis O'Brien or patience from the Irish football fans.
Only six games gone and we know we won't be at the Euros next summer. As with so many other strands of Irish football today, it's all so depressingly bleak.
Sunday Indo Sport