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Friday 9 December 2016

John Giles: Scotland draw sparks long overdue debate

Republic of Ireland's Wes Hoolahan in action with Scotland's Matt Ritchie and Shaun Maloney
Republic of Ireland's Wes Hoolahan in action with Scotland's Matt Ritchie and Shaun Maloney

THESE are very important moment for football in this country. Ireland's draw with Scotland has kicked off a debate which is long overdue and is centres around one question. Is our talent pool in decline and if it is, why?

Ireland played well against Scotland and for me, were the better team. I would say the same about the home game against Poland back in March. So I don't subscribe to the idea that Ireland doesn't have any good footballers and that Martin O'Neill is working with poor tools.

I would instead look at the uncertainty around team selection and the likelyhood that Aiden McGeady and not Hoolahan would have been given the free role if he had been fit.

I know there has been a lot of doom and gloom around after Saturday's result but I believe that O'Neill and his players will find a chance to redeem themselves before all this is over.

It might take a draw against Germany and a win in Poland but I don't see that as an impossible task and particularly if Ireland play the way they did in the first-half against Scotland.

In other words, I'm not as pessimistic as others about our chances of making it to the Euro 2016 finals and in a broader context, about the flow of talent although I do believe that the time is ripe for a revolution in the game. This is not unique to Ireland.

I think it would be wise if everyone took a step back and asked themselves a better question than the first one I posed. What do you want for your kids?

Do you want well-run, well-organised safe environments with good standards on and off the pitch?

It's an easy one to answer. That is what everyone wants and there are many schoolboy clubs in Ireland which strive for those high standards and succeed in very difficult circumstances.

I know this because of my own connections with Stella Maris and for that reason, I cannot agree that schoolboy clubs are the problem with football in Ireland.

We have come to rely on schoolboy clubs to do the development work and mostly without any consistent help. Is it any wonder that they are suspicious of anyone telling them how to do their job.

For me, the answer to create a clubs association and channel all the resources that would be available from FIFA , UEFA, the FAI and the Government into the organisation with perhaps an independent body to run it.

If we want to create the environment in which all kinds of players, Wes Hoolahans, Robbie Keanes and John O'Sheas can thrive and flourish, it is a worthy goal.

On the pitch, Ireland have four more games and big hurdles to climb. But so too do Scotland and there were positives from the game for O'Neill.

Hoolahan was brilliant and I saw good performances from Robbie Brady, John O'Shea, Daryl Murphy and Jon Walters. Séamus Coleman was a disappointment and while I thought James McCarthy did well enough, it still wasn't the command performance we've all been looking for.

The road ahead will be hard, I've no doubt about that and I'm talking about both issues. Fixing a football team is a big, big job. Fixing football is an enormous challenge.

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