Sport Soccer

Saturday 16 December 2017

Ireland moving in the right Direction?

Jon Walters lifts the ball over Turkey goalkeeper Onur Kivrak to score for Ireland
Jon Walters lifts the ball over Turkey goalkeeper Onur Kivrak to score for Ireland

Croke Park and the Aviva Stadium both hosted events yesterday, but as far as media coverage and general interest was concerned, it was a no-contest.

Even manager Martin O’Neill joked that some members of his own family were threatening to watch the One Direction concert instead the first of four summer friendlies for the boys in green as Ireland slumped to a defeat at the hands of Turkey.

While one Irish man and his colleagues were whipping a packed Croke Park into a frenzy yesterday, across the city on Lansdowne Road the atmosphere was altogether different for the 25,191 spectators who witnessed an end-of-season international played in the spirit of a testimonial.

It was little over half that turned up the previous week to witness Shamrock Rovers taking on Liverpool.

The build-up focused as much on the absentees as those present for duty. Stephen Ireland yet again dominated last week, while Robbie Keane’s absence was as usual lamented with each opportunity that was spurned in front of goals. James McCarthy was instructed to concentrate on getting back to fitness after a season of toil with Everton.

After a dramatic Premier League run-in, a pulsating Champions League Final and a World Cup about to dominate the football horizon, the apathy is perhaps somewhat understandable.

Next up are Italy in London before matches against Costa Rica and Portugal as part of their World Cup preparations, though the warm-ups are unlikely to have supporters on the edge of their seats.

Kevin Doyle conceded in an interview with the Sunday Independent that while the friendlies aren’t  everyone’s cup of tea, they are important for the Association.

“I understand why they have to have these games,” the Wexford native said.

“They have spent . . . Ireland isn't the economy it was when they built the Aviva and what they had planned for it. I know one of the reasons for these games in America is to make money, basically,” he said.

The FAI was able to wrangle a €12.5m writedown on its €50m-plus stadium debt, while the lowering of its interest costs and a less scary capital repayment schedule is all welcome news.

Those are some measures and at a time when every penny counts, all avenues wills be exhausted to swell the coffers. Including some underwhelming friendly matches.

John Delaney urged supporters to purchase season tickets in his programme notes, though the Turkey defeat was hardly the ideal showcase for such a statement.

On the pitch there were some bright spots in O’Neill’s second successive defeat ahead of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

Man-of-the-match Richard Dunne gave the management team a timely reminder of what he can offer when injuries don’t get in the way, while Newcastle United goalkeeper Rob Elliot was rewarded for missing his stag party in Las Vegas with his first senior cap.

Summer friendlies only exacerbate the absence from a major tournament and the hope is that the summer of 2016 will see players eager to stake claims for starting positions ahead of the European Championships.

Online Editors

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