Sunday 19 January 2020

Ireland should be 'brave enough' to play Harry's game

‘Up and at them’ approach nothing to cheer about, says David Kelly

Harry Arter in action for the Republic of Ireland during their World Cup qualifier against Austria on Sunday. Photo: PA
Harry Arter in action for the Republic of Ireland during their World Cup qualifier against Austria on Sunday. Photo: PA
David Kelly

David Kelly

Rarely has Irish soccer's intense invocation of self-sacrifice reached such a zenith.

Before Ireland played Austria, Roy Keane preposterously cited the apparent willingness of Seamus Coleman to break his leg for the national cause, linking the full-back's unsought distress with an unnamed coterie of folk who have "died" for their country.

Really? To some of us it appeared a clumsy clarion call that conflated a game of football with nationalism.

Whatever one's political hue, it seems difficult to compare the attitude of someone who might be willing to martyr themselves for a national cause to that of a footballer being asked to execute a simple five-yard pass to a colleague.

And all this from someone whose determination to conquer the world at one stage apparently seized him with such fury that he was left with no option other than to stop and get off.

Then again, Keane's myopic view of what it seemingly takes to be an Irish international footballer is apparently shared by a certain constituency; the Irish supporters were only ever enthused on Sunday when Ireland launched a frenzy of aerial bombs at the Austrian defence.

They, like their heroes on the pitch, were more comforted by their side's seeming willingness to cease playing football, rather than attempt to play the game in a manner justifying their exalted status as professional sportsmen.

This was the only type of courage and bravery they demanded of their team and, even if it meant Shane Duffy elbowing a defender across the goal-line when the ball was almost certainly going to win the race regardless, no matter.

Heroism can take many forms; one of them requires a player deciding to put their foot on the ball rather than through it.

For more than a generation now, Irish teams and their supporters are more inclined to favour the latter approach and the real surprise is that people are still surprised that this remains the case.

Some, however, bridle at such prehistoric notions.

When we spoke with Harry Arter last week, he smiled broadly when asked a simple but rambling question - I should know, as I asked it - concerning the benefits of retaining possession as opposed to constantly conceding it.

"Keeping the ball is a massive part of football," he told me.

"That comes down to the individuals who want the ball, it's probably the hardest part of football, that people don't recognise, making little angles to receive the ball and being brave enough to receive the ball in any position.

"It is easy to run around and not want the ball, but taking responsibility and receiving it in any area is vitally important."

This is a valid definition of moral courage and responsibility, but it is one that seems not to be shared by his team-mates - as the mounting evidence amply and consistently illustrates.

Regardless of one's opinion on the current cause celebre, Wes Hoolahan, the simple fact of his constant omission hints at an attitude of distrust towards Arter's espousal of an approach based upon keeping the ball, rather than losing it.

Playing football, rather than not playing it. Speaking about "responsibility" as opposed to demonstrating it through brave team selection, tactics and attitude.

When Arter sought those he felt should be "brave enough", they were nowhere to be found and so, reduced to redundancy and irrelevance, he was withdrawn as Ireland instead lurched towards their more familiar definition of bravery and courage.


Just why this still needs to be curated by a suffocating coaches and managers and attendant experts who manage to pull in well north of a seven-figure sum annually seems difficult to comprehend.

Then again, when the lottery of flinging the ball with abandon into the air can occasionally result in a multi-million euro bonanza of qualification for a major tournament, then the relationship between low risk and high reward becomes slightly easier to comprehend.

Professional sport is all about results and if a team or individual can ascertain that a simplistic route (one) is more amenable than any other, then that is surely their prerogative.

The hard-headed collective will thus trumps any notion of individual idealism; there's another slice of pop psychology to which Keane himself might ascribe.

Those of us who expect more must therefore appear as delusional romantics.

Please forgive us if we feel unprepared to witness our kin die, or merely break a leg, for our country.

Then again, anyone who chooses not to subscribe can, as the absence of a full house last Sunday showed, simply not bother to turn up or switch the TV off.

Irish Independent

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