Wednesday 17 July 2019

David Kelly: 'Rudderless Ireland need lot more than a win tonight'

Analysis

Penny for your thoughts: Martin O’Neill in pensive mood before Ireland’s training session in Aarhus. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Penny for your thoughts: Martin O’Neill in pensive mood before Ireland’s training session in Aarhus. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

All eyes were on a corner of Dublin 4 last week where a sight for sore eyes was followed by an occasion which prompted sore heads.

The atmospheres were wildly discordant; from jeers to cheers, boos to booze, zeroes to heroes. But perhaps the most significant Irish sporting landmark this week was located no more than 15 miles south-west of the Dublin 4 home shared by the international soccer and rugby teams.

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In a brief, colourless message posted on the London Stock Exchange last Tuesday by real estate company Hibernia REIT, the IRFU confirmed the sale of a 92-acre parcel adjoining the M50.

The sale of the land, acquired between 1994 and 1996, reminded us all of those halcyon days when it seemed as if every sporting and political suit in the country had an idea for a new stadium.

The IRFU, who were on the precipice of entering a professionalised sport they had neither inclination to join nor the expertise to engage in, did what most Irish people of a characteristically conservative bent might do.

They shoved the deeds under the bed and saved them for a rainy day.

Robbie Brady. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Robbie Brady. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Thing is, when they finally cashed them in this week, there wasn't a cloud in their sky.

Sunnier

Indeed, after defeating the All Blacks for the first time in Dublin, the outlook for the sport in this country has, it seemed, never looked sunnier.

If the land is rezoned in the next 10 years, the IRFU will be entitled to an additional payment equal to 44pc of the market value of the lands at that date.

Shane Duffy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Shane Duffy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

To put it in context, the sale value represents a figure which is ten times the surplus recorded by the IRFU in their last annual report.

If you want to put them in another context, the bonus booty - give or take one or two million yo-yos - represents the bank debt that hangs around the FAI's neck like an albatross.

Both organisations derive their primary funding from the international game, the apex of the pyramid from which, in theory, everything trickles down in order to fund the foundations which, they hope, will in turn funnel their way to the top.

It is not an exact science, particularly for the FAI; the financial disparity between the sports - vast salaries for instance, and the exposure of home-based rugby players to consistently high levels of European and international competition - renders many comparisons redundant.

Still, there is an element that you reap what you sow and, given that rugby is nowhere near as widely popular a sport as soccer in this country, their approach to the development of player pathways and coaching resources must be admired.

Their commitment to re-invest their financial windfall can only copper-fasten the remarkable progress which has been made in these areas.

The sell-out crowd in the Aviva, likely to be replicated for a less-than-stellar fixture against the USA this weekend, illustrates the rude health of a sport striving to be the best at an elite level, yet always conscious of the work that must be maintained below the tip of the iceberg.

Meanwhile, the FAI struggled to fill two-thirds of the stadium last week and it remains difficult to ascertain how many of the 31,000 or so punters actually had to pay for the dubious privilege of witnessing the soccer team's slow, stifling decline into irrelevance.

Their manager is displaying signs of decline too and, while comparisons between his salary and that of Joe Schmidt might be skewed by financial forces in the respective sports, the contrast between the cold, clinical style of the Kiwi and the often chaotic, uncertain guidance of Martin O'Neill is stark.

And there might be some who will ponder just why it is that the FAI CEO's salary exceeds the combined salaries of his IRFU counterpart, Browne (not to mention that of GAA director-general, Tom Ryan).

There would appear to be little doubt as to which organisation is extracting the maximum bang for its buck these days.

Irish soccer desperately needs a shot in the arm tonight in order for its flagship representative to recover the credibility that has slowly seeped away.

And yet there is a sense that a positive result, however it might be achieved, would not necessarily represent the slow turning of a corner, rather a depressing confirmation of the stasis that cemented itself in the aftermath of Ireland's last visit to this country 12 months ago.

O'Neill attempted to inspire his troops last week but the results were negligible and the FAI are seemingly sated with the depressing state of affairs, frozen between the twin fears of admitting the cost of future failure and owning up to the present price that might have to be paid for it.

There is no vision, on or off the field; neither is there leadership.

And, while other sports might smugly sneer at the current state of international affairs, the relevant point is not what lessons the FAI can hope to learn from the IRFU.

It is that the FAI cannot even apply their own.

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