Sunday 8 December 2019

'Irish squad has never been so weak'

Former Georgia star Ketsbaia feels luck of the Irish is about to run out in Tbilisi today

OLD FRIENDS: Temur Ketsbaia with Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given during Euro 2016 Qualifer, in Tbilisi. Pic: Sportsfile
OLD FRIENDS: Temur Ketsbaia with Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given during Euro 2016 Qualifer, in Tbilisi. Pic: Sportsfile

Lining out alongside Shay Given in the Newcastle United shirt was one of the good moments in the playing career of Temuri Ketsbaia.

"I was great friends with Shay, we have a lot of good memories of our time together," says Ketsbaia, once a hero on Tyneside and who is now based in Cyprus.

His memories of battling against Irish teams as player and manager, however, lead Ketsbaia to a bitter mixture of anger and disappointment and nothing like the same fondness he feels for Given.

When Ketsbaia gets annoyed, he gets very annoyed, as we know from his infamous celebration, after scoring a goal for Newcastle against Bolton in 1998, when he kicked the advertising hoarding.

All those matches, and losses, against Ireland in his time as a player and manager of the national side, have not provoked the same reaction but he's very keen for their winless run to end, and he feels there has never been a better time for the Georgians to go out and, at last, beat Ireland over 90 minutes.

GLORY DAYS: Temuri Ketsbaia in action for Newcastle United.
GLORY DAYS: Temuri Ketsbaia in action for Newcastle United.


"It was always a difficult game with Ireland, home or away. Our statistics against Ireland are terrible, all of the teams and coaches who have played for us against Ireland and we have never won," Ketsbaia told The Herald.

"Ireland don't have the same team now as they had before, they don't have the same quality of players. OK, we don't have big names any more, but neither do Ireland.

"I saw the first game in March in Dublin, I looked at the two teams and I feel the game today is a chance for the Georgian national team. This is the time to get the three points against Ireland.

"This is our chance. I believe that's true, the two teams are not far from each other in quality, the games between us have always been close, and this is our opportunity to get something.

"In the past the Ireland teams we played were better that this one, I know that as a player and as a coach with the national team, you always had really good quality and I don't see that same quality in this Irish team now."

Ketsbaia, a free-scoring and talented midfielder, began his playing career with Dinamo Tbilisi, then played in Cyprus and Greece before a 1997 move to Newcastle, joining at the same time as Given.

He still has ties there, as his daughter is in university in Newcastle and he's always welcomed back, though he's not eager to be known for just once incident, that goal celebration.

"Young people but may see me on Youtube kicking the hoarding. It doesn't bother me.I know all I did for Newcastle, my career there was not one game or one incident," he says.

He had his best years with United, also playing for Wolves and Dundee before finishing up his playing career with Cypriot side Anorthosis Famagusta, where is is currently first team boss.

He was an Anorthosis player at the time of a 2-1 defeat for Georgia at home to Ireland in the Euro 2004 qualifiers, which turned out to be his last match as a player with the national team, so it could be said that Brian Kerr's side ended his international career.

"We were unlucky that day, maybe that was the start of our run of bad luck," he sighs.

"When I played against the Irish they had big Premier League players, and we had some really good players at good clubs as well, but now it's more level, which gives Georgia a chance," he says.

He recommenced battle with Ireland in 2013, this time as a manager, as he was in charge for a 4-0 loss in Dublin in a friendly game, and in a qualifier in Tbilisi in 2014, his side were beaten by Ireland. Again. 

"We did well in that 2014 game in Tbilisi, when I was coach. We came close but McGeady scored and you won, and it was not a fair result, a fair result would have been a draw,," he admits.

"And it was the same in 2003 when I was a player. We only lost 1-0 in Dublin in March, we deserved a point and I hope the win can come this week.

"We have a good squad now. The players showed against Denmark last month that we can get a good result. so it's going to be a tough game for Ireland.

"You only won 1-0 from a free kick in Dublin and we had chances to score so why can't we get something today?"

Ketsbaia planned to fly back home to Tbilisi from his Cyprus base in time to see the game, a spying mission of sorts as three of the Georgian squad are in his panel at Anorthosis (keeper David Loria, and midfielders Murtaz Daushvili and Tornike Okriashvili).

"We don't have guys like Kaladze and Demetradze any more, we used to have players in the Premier League, Serie A, Germany. Now it's Russia, Turkey, Austria. The choice is not so good, but they are all good players, and proud to play for the national team.

"We don't have a lot of attacking players, so it's about organisation, and finding a way to attack when you can. Georgia are not going to be all attack, but if we are well-organised, wait for the opportunity, this is how we will get the result."

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