Saturday 20 January 2018

'Beat the swedes and we can have Euro joy'

Former Ireland international Jason McAteer was on hand to help launch the 2016 SPAR FAI Primary School 5s Programme: Sportsfile
Former Ireland international Jason McAteer was on hand to help launch the 2016 SPAR FAI Primary School 5s Programme: Sportsfile

Smells like team spirit. That's the thought that pops into Jason McAteer's head when he looks at the current crop of players available to the Ireland manager as a team of largely unheralded Irishmen prepare to take on Europe in France next summer.

And the former international, now on the beat as a pundit as well as occasional PR duties like an appearance in Dublin yesterday to plug the Spar Primary School 5s programme, feels that the crop of 2016 can cope without the presence of a world-class player in the squad to make some progress in France, but only if they can win the first game of the group stage, against Sweden.

McAteer states bluntly that the current squad is far off, in terms of quality, compared to Ireland sides he featured in. "Miles away," he says, when asked to compare.


"I think what I like is what Roy and Martin have done bringing back that belief and team spirit. You feel that is coming back: the Germany game, even after the Georgia game, you felt it really, that there was a unity and a closeness about the lads.

"I think you need to bring that to an international team. For world class players, with Ireland there has always been a sprinkling, I was lucky enough with Robbie and Roy (Keane), going back to '94, you'd say Paul (McGrath) was in that bracket: world class.

"You look at this squad, and think there is no world class players, that sprinkling any more. There is team spirit, we have that togetherness and camaraderie. And it's got us results, that's probably what's got out of the group and into the Euros."

But for McAteer, a veteran of two World Cups, feels that the opening game against Sweden will define the summer. "It's a tough group. The best thing that's happened us is Sweden in the first game. Italy have come through a bit a transitional period and the Belgians are outside favourites, I actually think they're going to have a good tournament, the Belgians," he says.

"Sweden is our realistic opportunity to get points on the board. If we get a first win, it might give us the confidence to maybe get a draw and eventually get thorugh, I think that's a realistic aim. If we don't get that game, it will be critical."

Speaking in Dublin yesterday, McAteer was asked for his thoughts on the current situation at Liverpool, the club he supported as a boy and then got to play for over four seasons. Like many of the ex-players at Anfield, McAteer does some work for the club, travelling around the world in an ambassadorial role.

So his role at Anfield does leave him compromised in terms of expressing a view on the revolt by fans in protest at a hike in ticket prices, to £77 for some matches. Unlike his old team-mate Jamie Carragher, McAteer didn't leave the ground in the 77th minute last week as part of the fans' protest, but the Merseyside lad says he'd have considered following Carragher out the door.

"I was doing the telly and I couldn't. I would have done though. Do you know what, I'm very much part of the fans, I am a fan, and I probably would have walked out, I probably would have done," added McAteer, admitting that he was taken aback by the cost when he recently bought two tickets, at £72 each (€94) for the League Cup final.

"It's an expensive business now to take your kids to the game. It should be addressed by the Premier League. They should look into it and do something about it.

"There's the business side and I totally understand that but then I am a fan as well. I think the owners will put it right.

"You can understand the fans' frustration, you can understand the wages the players are getting paid and the fans - which is what football is all about ultimately - feel like they are paying the price, and I totally get it.

"I understand their frustration and I understand the protest at the weekend, I'm sure the owners at Liverpool, FSG, will put it right."

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