It may be unfair, yet it is inevitable that Irish sports fans will contrast the winning ways of our all-island rugby squad and its coach Joe Schmidt with the abject failure of the Republic of Ireland soccer team and the combined skills of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane.
During O’Neill’s tenure, there have been highlights along the way, none more so than Euro 2016 in France, beating world champions Germany in the process. But the lowlights have dominated his five-year reign.
Like rugby, soccer is a numbers game. Over the past year our soccer lads have only managed to score one victory, with a last-minute goal by Alan Judge in a friendly against the USA. There was only a single goal scored in the Nations League campaign and that involved a 4-1 defeat by Wales.
The numbers also differ in terms of support. Anyone watching the humiliation at the Aviva will also have noticed the scores of empty seats in the drawn game with Denmark, while the Irish rugby team played to a capacity crowd.
O’Neill and Keane cannot be to blame for all that. The FAI needs to rebuild our soccer future from the ground up, reinvigorating the game at school and street league level. It can take example and heart from what has happened in rugby. Not so long ago the idea of Ireland reaching the rugby world cup final would be laughable. Now it’s a real prospect.
The only way is up.