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Monday 18 December 2017

Chinks in Ireland's Armoury have been there for some time

Hit-and-hope approach was never going to work

The brilliant Christian Eriksen led his country to next year’s World Cup in Russia
The brilliant Christian Eriksen led his country to next year’s World Cup in Russia
(l-r) Injured Ireland captain Seámus Coleman consoles James McClean after Tuesday’s defeat to Denmark

Those of us who believed Martin O'Neill's team was cruising for a bruising had our worse fears realised on Tuesday night.

The Ireland manager has a wealth of experience both as a player and club manager. Unfortunately, it counted for nought against Denmark.

Tuesday's 5-1 drubbing may have come as a seismic shock to those thousands of bewildered Ireland supporters who, with the aplomb of Judas in Gethsemane, slunk away from Martin and his disciples long before Nicklas Bendtner drove the fifth nail into their World Cup dreams.

Though obvious, the faultlines had been conveniently ignored for some time.

Back before he guided Ireland to their first World Cup finals, I asked Jack Charlton if the pub talk was true that he'd silenced opposition to his ideas in the dressing room by producing his 1966 World Cup medal.

Jack snorted with derision at the idea. "No, load of f***ing nonsense," he exclaimed. "You'd never use that. (Among) the basic things we said at that first meeting was: 'You'll play our way, whether you like it or not. If it's wrong we'll get the sack, not you'."

On Tuesday night, in the face of criticism, O'Neill stopped short of producing his medals.

"I didn't win those trophies that I've won both as a player and a manager and have some luck…. I've won enough trophies as manager to show, actually I was involved in a UEFA final (2003), some luck to get there."

Credentials

In some ways, Martin's right. While his credentials seem adequate, it wasn't bad luck that was the undoing of the Ireland team at the Aviva Stadium.

It was gross incompetence.

Whatever about his choice of starting 11, the sight of international team-mates crashing into each other like out-of-control dodgem cars at a funfair chilled the blood.

Much has been made of James McClean's passion. Most of it by the manager. But straining the blood vessels in his temple belting out The Soldier's Song was never going to be enough to win Tuesday's match.

McClean needed direction. It was bad enough that he was played out of his most effective position but when he collided with David Meyler 11 minutes into the match, he looked like a runaway train with the points man asleep.

We moan about the defensive shambles that resulted in the gift of an own goal from a corner on 29 minutes.

But to compound the injury, Ireland had a dress rehearsal for a similar set-piece 12 minutes earlier. On that occasion a rushed scramble blunted a short corner attack.

Not so the next time.

The worrying lack of composure shown across the pitch isn't something the players can be exclusively faulted for.

Their indecision, their anxiety and their capriciousness surely stemmed from coaching inadequacies.

It's been noticeable how, with occasional exceptions, most of the team have been playing better for their clubs that they've been in the green shirt.

A gifted player such as Christian Eriksen can appear to operate on intuition.

But the current squad of Ireland players require guidance, advice and a viable game-plan.

Since his days with Wycombe Wanderers 27 years ago, Martin O'Neill has been hailed as a motivator.

While that skill might be highly prized at club level, where having to compete every week might test some players, at international level the sight of a green shirt hanging in the changing room can usually be guaranteed to lift your spirits.

Almost anyone can give it a lash. But what's needed at this level is order, a rational, a system.

Drills re-enforced by repetition on the training pitch, strategies to cover foreseeable eventualities and clear-minded thinking on the sideline when the unexpected happens.

The seeds for Tuesday's rout were sewn in Copenhagen with Ireland's "Hail Mary" hoof-the-ball display.

As the old saying goes: "Faint heart never won fair maiden."

Bus-parking and wishful thinking alone were never going to see Ireland embrace Mother Russia next summer. Goals were key.

It was obvious Ireland couldn't rely on a rub of the relic.

When it comes to disjointed performances, Tuesday's display rates as the nadir.

But we can't say we weren't warned.

Martin took his team to Tbilisi in September and watched them being outplayed by Georgia for most of the game. It was a shockingly inept performance by Ireland that left the locals, who were ranked 112th, feeling hard done by to have only managed a draw.

Like a bluffer who squeezes through exams because the right questions come up, O'Neill gave the impression that Ireland had the answers.

Tragically, for him, his team and their supporters, this time they hadn't a clue.

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