On Friday evening, the Republic of Ireland face up to Latvia at the Aviva Stadium in an international friendly. And while the rest of the world will have their eyes fixed firmly upon the results of the all-important World Cup play-offs taking place, Irish fans will watch on with keen interest as the newly-installed managerial duo of Martin O’ Neill and Roy Keane take charge for their first-ever fixture as head honchos.
Realising at long last that Giovanni Trapattoni was becoming increasingly incoherent and directionless as the days went on, he was sacked faster than a harvest of spuds. Now, O’ Neill and Keane must plan for two frendlies having inherited a squad chosen entirely by former interim manager Noel King.
So if all goes wrong they can technically blame him.
Despite the credentials of both men, it seems as though many an arm-chair pundit is still unhappy and, as yet, unswayed by their illustrius careers to date.
O’ Neill’s three SPL titles and defying the odds in Europe on more than a few ocassions as well as generally just being Roy Keane don’t seem like success enough for some followers of the Republic of Ireland national side.
Some of the pontificating on Friday may well come off a tad bitter and disgruntled – people are very cautious about the new arrangement. Perhaps they have reason to be, but don’t be surprised if the pre-match discussions going on around you are more than a little insufferable.
My advice? Tune in to the match at home.
Some will sprout statements like: “I’d never like to see the national team lose, but I’d make an exception this evening. Keano out! The man has never shown any respect for the national set up.”
I wonder what they’d make of ‘keeper David Forde conceding eight goals against Latvia on home soil – all of which have been knocked past him by one-man blunder Paul McShane as part of Roy Keane’s 11-year plan to bring Irish football down from the inside.
It would be mild vengeance against the FAI for Saipan – but would they still be happy about it then?
Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but there’s a particular following of Irish supporters who just love to complain – even when things are going well.
Picture the scene: (Somehow) Ireland have just won the World Cup. Having laced up his boots for one last hurrah with the Boys In Green, John Giles scores the winning goal in a tense and dramatic final – an acrobatic bicycle kick that flies gracefully past Joe Hart – and is duly mobbed by hordes of jubilant fans in Croke Park. In the presser afterwards, he thanks the fans, God and Eamonn Dunphy.
Muffled complaints would still ring out: “Yet he never thanked his mother for bringin’ him into the world. Jayzis.”
It’s been well-documented, but Euro 2012 showed the world of football what great Irish fans are made of. Through thick and thin, they supported the players on the pitch – their unwavering respect for the 11 players on the field of play reachng an amazing crescendo as they proudly sang “The Fields of Athenry” with their team trailing 4-0 against Spain.
However, it’s everybody’s encouragement that Ireland needs as a sporting nation, and now is the perfect opportunity to wipe the slate clean.
Plainly put, it’s not enough to pat the players on the back whilst simultaneously defacing Roy Keane’s biography with glee, especially now at the beginning where everything is in place for a bright new start.
A recent look at Mick McCarthy’s unnerving and, quite frankly, awkward press conference ahead of a Championship match as the head of Ipswich Town shows that it’s not just some Irish fans who need a change of mentality.
The 54-year-old former Ireland boss refused to make any comment when questions were addressed to him regarding the FAI’s decision not to appoint him as the Green Army’s new supremo. Even a message of mild praise would have sated our appetites – particularly coming from his endearing Barnsley drawl.
Sadly, it wasn’t forthcoming, but perhaps we’ll get there someday – particularly if the bedraggled-looking John Delaney, and his choice of management, bears fruit come the Euro 2016 qualification stage.
In truth, it all boils down to a change of mindset. A new dawn is rising in Irish football, and while some may be none too impressed by those in charge for their past, the fact remains that many demons have been buried over the last few weeks and the time has come for resolution and change.
Make no mistake, neither O’ Neill or Keane are above criticism and they will make mistakes along their journey, but let’s not dismiss them before they’ve even begun.
After all, they can’t possibly be any worse than the gaffe-filled Steve-Staunton era.
In short, if Keane and Delaney can sit in the same room together without the former Manchester United star ready to lunge forth and break the FAI Chief’s legs à la Alf-Inge Haaland in 2003, it’s fair to say they’ve crossed their impasse on that front.
Now it’s up to everyone else to follow suit.
(Note: This is a work of fiction and should not in any way be construed as real)Published 15 Nov 2013, 09:27 IST