Richard Dunne: The Cardiff disaster was the most worrying Irish performance that I've seen in a long time
For a match that looked a tricky encounter for Ireland prior to kick-off, what unfolded in Cardiff last night just re-affirmed that concern.
It was as worrying a performance as I have seen from Ireland in a long time.
From the first whistle, they looked a team that was short on confidence and that was in marked contrast to a Wales team that played with a swagger and verve, that their new manager Ryan Giggs was famous for during his illustrious playing career.
The final score of 4-1, as bad as it sounds, was probably a touch flattering for Ireland and that just reflects how badly events unravelled for them all over the pitch.
Of course, the build-up to the match had been nothing short of calamitous from an Ireland perspective with the mixed messages and innuendo surrounding the absence of both Harry Arter and Declan Rice from the squad.
If anyone thought that was to be the nadir from this depressing week, the events of the first half saw Ireland reach new depths, on the pitch this time, as they were outplayed and out-thought by a Wales team operating at a totally different level.
While Ireland have rarely been known to play the vibrant and attacking football that Wales managed last night, they have always prided themselves on being hard to beat and being well-organised defensively.
Sadly, they spent most of the night chasing shadows and the communication between the back-four was lacking, which shouldn’t really be the case given that it was close to a full-choice selection and also included regular goalkeeper Darren Randolph.
Time after time they were left exposed by the pace and movement of the Welsh team and in fairness to Giggs, he was more than happy for his team to go out and express themselves.
That Ireland didn’t manage to do just that was a missed opportunity in my view after all the negativity off the field in the past week. This was a chance to get back on track with an encouraging performance on the pitch.
After the disappointment of the loss to Denmark, this was also a chance to get the fans back on board and behind the team but Ireland’s performance offered nothing to suggest that the team is on the right track.
I think it’s fair to say that Wales had a better calibre of player than Ireland but that doesn’t excuse Ireland’s lack of conviction, especially when they were looking to curb the threat of the Wales team.
They seemed to attempt to close them down to a certain degree but wouldn’t take that final step forward and engage properly with their opponent and, in some ways, they looked like they were afraid to commit to a challenge.
You just cannot do that at any level of football and certainly, Ireland teams of the past would never have played in that manner.
After the long break, it was just a very uninspiring return to competitive action and there really was nothing to encourage people looking forward.
The only genuine chances that Ireland looked to create were via set-pieces and there was little ingenuity in their play.
For a team that beat Wales in a World Cup qualifier not so long ago, this was as drastic a fall as we could have feared and it’s beginning to look that the result in the play-off against Denmark was less of a blip and perhaps a more long-term issue.
It’s becoming very evident that Ireland just do not have the players of the calibre that they used to have and while that sounds terribly depressing, there has to be a realism as to the situation that Ireland find themselves in.
It’s unfortunate but that just where we are at the minute and as a country, we need to find these players and find someone to galvanise the team going forward.
Our options in attack are very limited compared to recent times and a huge concern is that there are few enough players on the team that are guaranteed a starting place at their clubs.
That wouldn’t be the case with most other countries and if you look through the team, perhaps only Séamus Coleman and Shane Duffy would be assured of their place.
Ireland are going through a tough time at the minute and going to Poland is unlikely to offer them any respite, sadly.