Saturday 17 February 2018

There's no disguising our flaws but it's not all doom and gloom

‘Seamus Coleman became the rolling news and they should have shown the tackle on television and given people the chance to switch off, but shown it nonetheless.’ Photo: Stephen McCarthy
‘Seamus Coleman became the rolling news and they should have shown the tackle on television and given people the chance to switch off, but shown it nonetheless.’ Photo: Stephen McCarthy

Ger Gilroy

Daniel Pearl was kidnapped in January 2002 in Pakistan while investigating a story for the Wall Street Journal. Although he lived with his pregnant wife in Mumbai, he'd been chasing a story in Karachi in Pakistan, covering George Bush's War on Terror in the aftermath of 9/11.

It turned out Karachi wasn't a safe spot for a US journalist. He was held captive for nine days as his kidnappers attempted to extort an impossible list of demands from the US government (stop selling F-16s to Pakistan, free our comrades in Guantanamo, etc).

Bush said no and they killed Daniel Pearl, disposing of his body in 10 separate pieces in a shallow grave. His story, although horrific and high profile, would likely be an afterthought in the general chaos of the War on Terror had it not been for the fact that his killers filmed the beheading and published it online a fortnight after he was killed.

In 2002, there was no YouTube or Facebook for the easy dissemination of online video so when the news broke of the existence of this snuff movie people had a choice to make. Do you seek it out? On what grounds can you justify watching another human die? And yet, it also seemed possible at the time to ask on what grounds will you not watch this. How can we turn away from the reality of what's happening?

I watched the video and it forced me to decide what I thought about US foreign policy, about the extremists in the video capable of such horror and the lives of the people left behind, about the pressure in the media to chase stories, about a whole raft of things I'd only pretended to care about up to that point.

It's not for everybody but occasionally if I feel like I've forgotten about a big news story I'll seek out the candid videos of war zones or famine-stricken regions to make sure I know what's happening in Syria or Somalia or Calais. Otherwise how can we know the truth? The rolling news that fills our screens with an acceptable level of violence and desolation, pushing into our lives in waiting rooms and barbershops and at shop counters becomes wallpaper, always filtered through editors' eyes either sanitised or politicised. Always pre-packaged. I get that. We've all reached for the dial when 'bad' news comes on and the kids' ears perk up and for as long as possible I'll put off the conversations with my kids about what a murder means or why that bomb went off. We all have a choice to switch off but the news is the news.

Last week Seamus Coleman became the rolling news and they should have shown the tackle on television and warned people and given them the chance to switch off, but shown it nonetheless. We have to face the truth and learn to deal with it. These tackles are horrific and only by showing them perhaps we get a chance to argue for the end of them.

When it comes to facing the truth, though, we have to talk about the football with as much candour as anything else. Michael O'Neill talked to us in a very relaxed form on Wednesday night's Off the Ball, fresh from a 2-0 home win at the new Windsor Park as Northern Ireland bounced into second in their group. The second goal was a beautiful free-flowing move from right-back, through Steven Davis in midfield, with a textbook slide rule through ball for the striker to toe-poke through the onrushing 'keeper's legs. The type of goal we haven't seen the Republic score in quite a while at home.

Asked about the reaction to how Ireland are playing, O'Neill said people need to stop worrying about performances and think results when it comes to qualifying games. O'Neill also said the media needs to be positive because the fans read the media and believe what they read.

Of course the media doesn't need to be positive because that's not actually their job but you can see why an international manager would like it to be part of our job descriptions. Brian Kerr, who understands both sides of the desk, was in sizzling form on the morning after the Iceland game, unlike the team the night before.

He said fans were "swizzed out of an international match" after the 1-0 defeat. He grouped the Georgia home game with the Wales and Iceland games and pointed out how few chances we'd created in the last three home games and said "we looked like a team that was thrown together at the last minute without any work being done or practice being done on the old 4-4-2 system".

Kerr is fast becoming our most entertaining and relevant pundit when it comes to the national team. How he's not on the tv panel is a travesty as big as the fact he's not got a full-time job in Irish football. He's got the perfect blend of edge, experience and self-confidence to carry any audience at this point. It doesn't mean he's always right though.

The Georgia game and the Wales game had away wins in Moldova and Austria sandwiched in between. Ireland would take their away performance against Austria at any time under any manager with any squad in the last 40 years and be delighted with it.

It was literally an historic result achieved with about as good a performance as it might be possible to get from our squad. Wes Hoolahan started the Austria game. Fast forward to the Wales game and suddenly they are top of the group without half a team. Ireland played with a defensive mindset against the top seeds who possess a genuine world-class talent in their ranks. On its own it's an acceptable nil-all.

The Iceland game taken on its own might be the most meaningless game of football Ireland will ever play. Keith Andrews said after the Wales game that when the Coleman injury happened he just wanted to leave the stadium immediately, that the rest of the game was effectively meaningless to him. Imagine being a team-mate and trying to get back up to some kind of fever pitch for a friendly against Iceland? I can't.

Ireland played badly against Iceland, there is no dressing that up. A scratch team of debutants and third-stringers didn't have the wherewithal to cast aside the overshadowed build-up. Maybe Michael O'Neill's positivity has gone to my head but the body of work of Martin O'Neill includes large swathes of mediocre performances and good results. It's an unusual combination in Irish sports history; normally we have great one-off performances and heart-breaking results.

We all want to see our midfielders get on the ball more and weave some pretty patterns, to find angles on offer from their team-mates and drive forward more often. It's there in patches. Kerr finished his brilliant Thursday morning interview by saying "we'll have to get better".

On that we can all agree.

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