Thursday 15 November 2018

King's reign under scrutiny after U-21s dismal failure to deliver

Under pressure: Noel King. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Under pressure: Noel King. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

John Fallon

What's the optimal criteria for judging the performance of an U-21 manager?

It's the pertinent question in the wake of another defeat for the Irish side led by Noel King, one that prolongs their wait to reach a first major tournament.

Ireland's 3-1 defeat to Israel on Thursday came on the back of a 6-0 hiding by Germany in Tallaght last month, just days after Ronan Curtis had pinched a point in Kosovo.

What Ireland have left in this European Championship campaign is Tuesday's trip to Germany - the team already anointed as top dogs and qualifiers for the finals in Italy and San Marino next year.

At a time when the senior team is in a state of disorder, the fortunes of the U-21 team tend to get magnified.

The mainstream supporter aghast at how Martin O'Neill's side appear incapable of stringing three passes together pine for the next best alternative.

In that context, returning to the question of assessment, King has fared well.

At least half of the probable Ireland team to face Denmark tonight will have lined out for his U-21 side along their trajectory to the top.

But is that enough to mask the shortcomings of the present team? Don Givens, King's predecessor, used to constantly bang the drum about the success rate of his graduates when defending displays and results of the team.

Replaced The Irish legend was finally replaced in 2010 following a particularly embarrassing defeat to Armenia in Tallaght.

King, when questioned last week at a press conference announcing his squad, initially said he didn't know whether he had a contract beyond this campaign for the 2019 finals.

After a little hesitancy, eventually came confirmation that King was on board, more so because he was a long-term FAI employee pre-dating his appointment to this particular post eight years ago.

Perhaps the reason for a campaign which had started so promisingly coming off the rails is due to the lack of talent - a trend even the finest managers in the world would be unable to overcome. But some observers are questioning King's selection policy.

Ireland's back five in Akko on Thursday consisted of players hailing from Macclesfield Town, Crewe Alexandra, Mansfield Town, Rochdale and non-league AFC Flyde.

None of his starting team operate above League One level with their present clubs.

Demise The absence of Declan Rice, who played five of the six opening games, has undoubtedly contributed to their demise but surely more can be done for a team which is the most important in Irish football beyond the seniors.

And then there is the issue about the lack of home-based talent in King's squads, the sparseness of Seán Maguire's involvement while a Cork City player in the last campaign being a case in point,

King can point to ever-present Curtis, mostly when he was a Derry player, to counter the charge.

The debate on the relevance and future of Ireland's U-21 team has intensified. Events over the next week will ensure it deepens.

Meanwhile, Ireland's U-19s can seal their place in the elite phase of the UEFA qualifiers if they beat Faroe Islands at Longford's City Calling Stadium today (3pm).

Tom Mohan's side defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday and will conclude the pool against the Netherlands next Tuesday.

The Faroes lost their opening match 5-0 to the Dutch and Mohan expects the opposition to do all they can to ensure the same result doesn't happen again.

"They held the Dutch scoreless for over 40-minutes and I thought they were unlucky to lose by that scoreline," Mohan said.

"A lot of these players played in the U-17 finals two years ago, so I'm expecting a tough game.

Irish Independent

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