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Monday 5 December 2016

We've always thrived on a bit of madness

It is a moot point whether Grealish might have leaned towards Ireland had qualification for the Euros been a more tangible thing a few months back when he was reaching his decision but it certainly looks like a poor call now
It is a moot point whether Grealish might have leaned towards Ireland had qualification for the Euros been a more tangible thing a few months back when he was reaching his decision but it certainly looks like a poor call now

There's a video doing the rounds of Robbie Keane, Wes Hoolahan and Shane Long in full flow on a stage in a pub in the small hours of Tuesday morning which brings back memories.

The sight of Dick Redmond cavorting around the Aviva home dressing room like a demented WWF extra had much the same impact.

A bit of pure madness always helps when hard work is over and time for worry done.

When Niall Quinn retired, one of the conclusions he reached during a long career in international football was that this quality was an essential part of the whole Republic of Ireland football squad experience.

He believed it so much that he felt the team would suffer and wither without it and in that, he was partially right.

Giovanni Trapattoni, the man who said recently that his first breath when he arrived in Dublin filled his head with smells of the barn, set about removing as many vestiges of eejitery as he could find and with some decent players to work with, produced a team and a successful run at qualification for Euro 2012.

But he never really got us. He was too sophisticated for bumpkins on the fringe of Europe and hollowed out his squad over the course of four years, taking aim first at the guitar player, Andy Reid. By the time Trapattoni left the stage, he had removed a lot of the fun.

Most people associate this wild streak with drink and it is true that during the Charlton and McCarthy eras pubs and clubs played a central role in the average Ireland international's match schedule. A return to that kind of madness is impossible and the viral of Robbie and his backing vocalists is harmless stuff.

Long can play, Keane holds a mic and a note well and they had a few drinks on board. But there was nobody channelling Shane McGowan.

It was great to see and just as good to see the flash crowds all over Dublin on the night of the game celebrating qualification. Ireland has reconnected with it's football team, responding to honest effort from the players and of course, the right result.

The success Trapattoni brought and the cash flow which came with it allowed the FAI to scrape through some difficult years but at a cost. Afflicted by austerity, many hard core fans made difficult choices and giving the Aviva a miss was one of them. It was not an easy thing to do but the cost was too high, the football was dreary and in the campaign for Brazil 2014, results as bad.

The FAI are still saddled with a big debt and it would have been bleak indeed had Martin O'Neill not delivered on his job specification. But he has delivered and qualification raises all boats.

Perhaps he has done something even more important, however. Perhaps he has also allowed space for some madness to creep back into proceedings and maybe it needed an Irishman to do that. Keane, certainly, understands the principle.

It is, in fact, the very thing which probably occupied Jack Grealish's mind for many of his waking hours in the run up to making his decision to opt for England.

An English kid at an English club with an English mother and father was torn by a distant connection with something which he experienced growing up in Birmingham and in the care of Noel King, the Ireland Under-21 boss. His connection with Ireland was real enough to make what looked like an easy choice tortuously difficult even if, in the end, he chose England.

He took some stick on Monday evening after the game on twitter. The best one wondered whether he would mind Ciaran Clark's dogs next summer.

It is a moot point whether Grealish might have leaned towards Ireland had qualification for the Euros been a more tangible thing a few months back when he was reaching his decision but it certainly looks like a poor call now.

Keane mentioned the possibility that there might be a few more out there wavering and the win over Bosnia, if nothing else, makes Ireland a very attractive proposition indeed for some as yet unknown Premier League regular with the right roots.

Like it or not, the Disapora will continue to be a major, perhaps the major source of new talent for the foreseeable future and making it to France makes Ireland a viable choice again, even if that reality is difficult to stomach.

It is worth noting that in amongst all the celebrations and justifiable happiness caused by events at the Aviva, some stark statistics are emerging surrounding the development of the League of Ireland Under-17 League.

There are now ten LOI Under 17 squads in the Leinster area and to supply them, as many as 40 DDSL clubs have had to dismantle their teams. That's a net loss of about 500 players, some of whom will stay in the game but many will not.

Ruud Dokter's grand plan is turning our only truly successful breeding ground for young talent into a base for community football and will rely on the LOI clubs to deliver elite coaching and support to the best talent in the country. Good luck with that.

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