Sunday 19 August 2018

Stephen Hunt: Pain of missing out on World Cup will only resonate when it starts

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill embraces John O'Shea after he was substituted during last night's International Friendly match between Republic of Ireland and the United States at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill embraces John O'Shea after he was substituted during last night's International Friendly match between Republic of Ireland and the United States at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

Another season over. The lads can head off on their holidays and enjoy the next few weeks of rest and relaxation. But when the World Cup finals start, it will really hit them that Ireland are not there this year.

The players will have been raw and upset immediately after the play-off defeat to Denmark in November but they could at least concentrate and focus on the day job at their clubs to get over that initial disappointment. It is only really when the action starts in Russia that it will really start to resonate that we are not at the biggest football carnival in world football.

And when a team emerges as the surprise package and an underdog rocks one of the big teams, it will be another cruel reminder that we failed to reach another World Cup. It will be a different smaller nation creating history by upsetting one of the top seeds. And it should be Ireland.

When we were knocked out of the 2010 World Cup play-offs by France, there was obviously a lot of disappointment and anger around the team in the immediate aftermath because of the controversial and extraordinary way we went out. But it was only really when the first game kicked off in South Africa that it hit home that Ireland were not there.

Every player handles that disappointment differently. I know lads in that squad who did not even watch a single game in those finals and others who could not bring themselves to watch the French team who, if you recall, imploded during the tournament and were a complete waste of space.

We can all remember our first World Cup finals - mine was Italia '90 - and of course, we will always remember the great memories involving Ireland. Sadly this year, we will have to latch on to one of the other teams rather than our own.

Let's be honest, the majority of Ireland fans will want England to do well in the World Cup, but they won't admit it. And I personally would like them to have a good run in the competition because it can only be good for English football and the Premier League, where most of our players want to play.

A World Cup offers players the opportunity to make a name for themselves on the world stage and have their moment in the limelight. You could go from relative obscurity in the Championship, or one of the smaller leagues in Europe, to get a big money move to the Premier League.

Still, they may not be in action this summer but hopefully one or two of the players in the Ireland squad will be on the move. And there are clearly a couple who would benefit from a fresh start at a new club.

Harry Arter probably needs a change of environment after losing his place in the Bournemouth team. David Meyler is obviously on the move after leaving Hull City and I wonder if a Championship club will fancy taking a gamble on Shamrock Rovers striker Graham Burke after his elevation into the senior squad followed by a goal on his first start.

By all accounts, Burke has acquitted himself very well in the squad over the last couple of weeks and I was pleased for him last night, particularly after missing Rovers' game against Dundalk on Friday night.

He certainly didn't look out of place and it was encouraging to see a player who was prepared to get round the pitch and demand the ball. He may have got his chance because of injuries to the likes of Shane Long but there was enough in his two cameos against the French and Americans to suggest he has a future in the Ireland squad.

At the other end of his international career of course is John O'Shea and I was delighted for my old team-mate that he was given a fitting send-off in the Aviva. The 'O'Shea, O'Shea. O'Shea' chants and the standing ovation when he departed in the 34th minute will have meant a great deal to him.

And well done Martin O'Neill and the FAI for giving one of our all-time greats a proper farewell in an Ireland shirt in Dublin. Not many of us were given that opportunity and our time with the national team came to its natural and inevitable conclusion. An exception was made for John O'Shea. And rightly so.

Sunday Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport