Martin O’Neill attempts to draw on past experience for positives, but the bad cop, bad bad cop routine is at an end writes Dave Hooper
The morning after the night before is starting to have a repetition, a night Irish fans don’t want to recall.
The inaugural UEFA Nations League had an immediate feel of repetition, as Ireland drew Wales and Denmark, two sides they had battled with for Russia 2018 qualification.
The defeat to Denmark in Dublin, nearly 12 months ago left a scar on Irish soccer fans. It wasn’t a case of unluckiness or what if’s, we had been utterly hammered.
The defeat to Wales on Tuesday night, was not unexpected, in fact there was an air of expectation for a defeat ahead of this week’s double header.
Few if any Irish fans believed a victory was on the horizon, against a Welsh side down their two best players.
Afterward O’Neill saw positives, he pointed to turning things around, just like his record states and his record to be fair has pedigree.
O’Neill most positive message came after the 1-1 draw with Scotland ahead of Euro 2016.
It looked as if another summer would be spent at home, having dropped two home points. O’Neill immediately declaring there’s plenty of twists and turns to come in this group.
He was right, but that was then.
Euro 2016 qualifying was the easiest competition any Irish manager, in fact any international manager has faced.
The only occasion the third placed team made a play-off. Germany for the first time ever lost two games in qualifying, they still won the group.
This time it’s very different, the camp is far from united. Declan Rice’s international wilderness and Jack Grealish switching nations, highlight that for some reason players already in the international fold want out.
The Walters, Arter bust up, the Stephen Ward whats app message, all fingers correctly pointed at Roy Keane.
Though, Matt Doherty’s comments in the Sunday Times point to further issues, this one squarely at Martin O’Neill’s door. The issues and the baggage have become far too heavy to carry.
O’Neill pointed to Arter’s return and Keane’s phone call to resolve the issue. Yet for the first time since taking charge in 2013, the FAI withdrew Keane from media activity for this international window.
While O’Neill’s attempts to be positive, all the negatives are clouding reality. This he said pre-Denmark, is the early stages of Euro 2020 qualifying.
12 months ago it was a very different story. A cheeky victory in Cardiff had setup an improbable play-off with Denmark.
The Nations League? No one cared about it, it was nothing more than a couple of B Internationals.
However the tanking to Denmark and the Derry man’s flirting with Everton and Stoke City before settling with Ireland called into question his commitment, indeed his interest in the job.
Suddenly the nation’s league meant a lot to the valuation of Ireland’s manager.
O’Neill is trying to rebuild his team and unfortunately or unluckily the injuries to James McCarthy, Robbie Brady and Jonathan Walters have denied him three key players.
All that said, O’Neill is showing the signs of fatigue, of a manager running out of ideas and lacking confidence in his own decision making.
Matt Doherty was left out against Wales in Cardiff, one of a slim number of Irish players in the premier league.
Cyrus Christie’s appointment in midfield is baffling. While Christie work-rate could not be faulted against Wales or Denmark, David Meyler collected nothing but splinters on the Irish bench.
The nations league also decides the rankings for the Euro 2020 qualifiers, with Ireland almost certainly now being placed in pot three.
It means we will definitely play a big gun the likes of World Champions France, European champions Portugal or most dangerously of all, England!
Pot 2, is another array of big names, possibly Croatia, Russia even another meeting with Wales or Denmark.
Pot 4, this shouldn’t matter to Irish teams, but the nations league was designed to let teams of similar standard play each other. While it has created cracking games, it’s also let teams build momentum. Hungary, Lithuania and Georgia could face Ireland with belief in themselves, something O’Neill’s side simply don’t have.
Just two teams qualify from the group stages, qualification moves increasingly more from difficult to unlikely.
Ireland may get a play-off place via the Nations league secondary qualifying, but that would more than likely requires Wales and Denmark both qualifying automatically, allowing Ireland a play-off spot.
Shane Duffy has pointed the finger at the players, Andy Townsend at the upper echelon of the F.A.I, while O’Neill’s team selection and squad building need scrutiny.
It’s bad cop and bad bad cop O’Neill announced on his and Roy Keane’s appointment five years ago.
It’s now a case of when not if another bad cop gets the chop.