Sunday 9 December 2018

Ireland could learn from buoyant Burnley

Burnley manager Sean Dyche. Photo: Daniel Hambury/PA Wire
Burnley manager Sean Dyche. Photo: Daniel Hambury/PA Wire

Brian Kerr

Going to a match in Turf Moor is a rare exercise in time travel. Redolent of chimney pots and flat caps, piped tobacco and wooden rattles, it makes one pine for more innocent times.

My initial fondness for Spurs came in 1962 when they won the FA Cup final; Burnley, their victims, were an illustrious outfit then. Despite their exalted status now, they are no longer perceived as a big name. Football economics has changed everything.

Then again, Burnley also remind us that there is always a way to survive and thrive in an often crazy modern world.

Alexis Sanchez won't play today. It's a fair shout that his weekly pay packet could take care of Sean Dyche's entire starting 11 this afternoon.

The contrast between these clubs is stark yet it is not so long ago that both occupied the Champions League spots. In relative terms what Dyche is achieving at Burnley is just as remarkable as what Pep Guardiola is doing at Manchester City.

Indeed, Burnley have almost been a weekly template of what Ireland under Martin O'Neill could be: defensively organised and solid, astute tactically but willing to play a passing and determined pressing game against superior teams, with Stephen Ward, Robbie Brady, Kevin Long and, occasionally, Jonathan Walters in their side.

Sadly, injuries to Irish players of late meant that when Jeff Hendrick was substituted after an hour last weekend, none of them were on the pitch.

The frustration with Hendrick in an Irish shirt is that he gets on the ball so rarely, he spends so much time harrying and racing after his opponents but his ability to get on the ball was rarely shown.

I wondered did he not understand his position or how to find space when Ireland had possession? Then I look at Burnley. Obviously with Ireland, neither he nor Brady get the encouragement to get on the ball and construct attacks through the middle.

Other than those almost carefree performances against the hosts and Italy at Euro 2016, we have rarely seen the best of the Burnley boys.

Dyche really enjoys the tactical battle and intrigue of trying to disturb the bigger clubs with the historically stronger resources and teams. They played very well in the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford.

Their festive record was pretty desperate - in six league games, they lost three but three away draws suggests to me a resilience and shouldn't mask the excellence of their season to date with a small squad.

United's greater resources mocks their limited attempts to crack the Man City conundrum compared to Burnley's innovative FA Cup effort, even if that also failed.

Three draws hampered them over Christmas but a points total of 50 from 22 games in any other year would by title-winning form. Their rivals' claustrophobic dominance and superior style of play over-shadows all.

Mourinho has done everything he can this season yet it is still not enough and now he must strive to do even more - hence the extravagant desire to sign Sanchez.

His record against lesser sides has improved from the unsustainable 15 draws last season but, as Burnley have already shown this season, they can still be taken down a peg or two.

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