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Wednesday 14 November 2018

Either the Ireland manager or our approach needs to change

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill
(l-r) Jeff Hendrick, Wes Hoolahan and Shane Duffy show their frustration at the end of last Tuesday’s World Cup playoff thrashing by Denmark

There has been a definite change in mood in the country since Monday night, when Denmark gave Ireland a lesson. Martin O'Neill's position is now being questioned and that's no surprise.

After the disappointing collapse against the Danes, O'Neill said that he would go away and have a think about his position, while reminding everybody that as far as he is concerned, he has an offer on the table from the FAI.

If that's the case, and we have no reason to doubt it, that offer puts O'Neill in the driving seat. If there is any decision to make, it will be him making it.

From the outside looking in, I'm sure it must seem strange that a manager who has just suffered a humiliating 5-1 defeat in a home World Cup play-off should be the one who makes such an important decision about the future.

It is not as simple as that. It never is. My own instinct would be to make a change and try to find someone who would try an approach which favoured a better balance between long-ball pragmatism and encouraging players to feel confident on the ball.

But that's an easy thing for me to say because I will never have to make the call. Every appointment is a gamble and if O'Neill decides to move on, I would hate to be given the job of finding a replacement.

Simple

It would be a difficult task in football terms, never mind the added pressures created by how much the FAI relies on the national team to do well.

Write down the plusses O'Neill has brought to the job and on paper, it's an impressive list of results and relative success.

O'Neill delivered in 2016 and the finance he generated was crucial. He fell short this time but still reached a play-off and again, on paper, that doesn't look half bad from Ireland's starting position as fourth seeds.

It is only when you drill down into the details of what has happened on the pitch in his time as manager that compelling reasons to take a step back emerge.

At that point, we are into a debate which has raged since Jack Charlton began his work in 1986.

It should be noted that there has been a big shift since those days, both in the quality of the players and the way supporters view the game.

Ireland's tradition as a nation which produced skilful players has been replaced by a new image of footballers who show spirited resistance in the face of superior ability.

Wonder

There is no doubt that O'Neill cannot call on the same kind of resources as Charlton enjoyed but I cannot accept that as an excuse for some of the things I have seen from this Ireland team over two qualifying campaigns.

I firmly believe that there is a better way to play than what we saw in Copenhagen and Dublin but before that discussion even takes place, the fundamentals must be right.

When a team cannot defend a short corner properly, the fundamentals are not right.

When a manager makes the kind of 'Hail Mary' substitutions O'Neill made at half-time in the second leg and handed the freedom of midfield to Christian Eriksen, I have to question that decision.

When, after three years, a manager still doesn't know what his best team is, I have to wonder how that has happened.

It may well be that O'Neill decides that now is a good time to move on. If he had a good offer on the table from a Premier League club, he couldn't ignore it and my hunch is that he would take it.

More likely, he will do nothing. Remember how long it took for him to sign his current deal? This is not a man prone to rash acts and this latest saga could roll on for a while yet before we see any clarity.

But I think we need clarity as soon as possible. O'Neill has disappointed those who enjoy the big-event atmosphere and those with a greater commitment to the game and I don't have to go back too far to see what happens in circumstances like that.

Giovanni Trapattoni should have quit after the 2012 debacle but he hung on and supporters voted with their feet.

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