Time for Ireland to recalculate percentages?

Are our hearts truly in these inquests any more, asks Larry Ryan.

Time for Ireland to recalculate percentages?

Ordinarily, after an embarrassment on the scale of Tuesday night, the sad ballad of the little guy on the street would have had an airing. Maybe we have come to terms with his extinction. Have run him over, stuffed and mounted him above the mantelpiece.

Latter day episodes of great shame would have produced thorough socio-economic analysis, leading to the conclusion that you require grave poverty to forge great players.

But when pundits look around at our streets and doorways, they can at least be content we are doing what we can on that front, that swift progress is being made.

Perhaps, with Gilesy off the box, there is nobody to rally the campaign against the competing attractions of PlayStations, personal stereos and third level education.

Though worried parents might be wise, during international breaks, to persuade their budding talents to avoid the Aviva, turn off the blessed television and go back on the PlayStation to their Fifa and Pro Evo, where they will find football they recognise.

Could it be that Tony O’Donoghue got too greedy, too giddy, ruined it for everyone? Had his Keane on Haaland moment with Martin O’Neill. He’d waited long enough. Take that you ****.

Seeing O’Neill buckle under that heavy challenge, even Eamon Dunphy got a little squeamish, backed away from his life’s work and would “hesitate to blame” the manager. Next day, the RTÉ website helped Martin to his feet. Main headline: ‘Regime change not justified by Denmark defeat’.

There is disenchantment but also a resignation that we just have to get on with things.

We have since indirectly heard what O’Neill makes of it all, via Luke Edwards of the Daily Telegraph, the last journalist to interview the gaffer.

“He feels under-appreciated,” Edwards wrote this week.

“Much like the English, the Irish have an inflated opinion of how good their players are and a strange sense of entitlement when it comes to judging the fortunes of the national team.

“There are better paid jobs waiting for the pair (O’Neill and Roy Keane) if they want one of them.”

That has been the vibe all along really, that O’Neill is here on missionary work. Doing us a turn. And maybe he is. Even though not many Premier League managers beyond the European places earn more than he does with Ireland and men like Sean Dyche reportedly make a good deal less.

The message that we are not much good, drummed home by O’Neill and Giovanni Trapattoni before him, has tied our inquests in a Gordian knot.

Maybe we are playing this way because we don’t have the players. But will we ever have players if we tell them to play like this?

There is revulsion for our brand of football without the ball. Yet a sort of acceptance that no good can come of us having the ball.

Talking to some of Eamo’s ‘real football people’ in the last few days — the people who organise academies and coach youngsters, people who are under-appreciated and underpaid (mainly unpaid) — there is some disillusionment out there.

They hate that ‘just knocking it’ is seen to be embedded in our DNA. They cringe when Åge Hareide smirks at our primitive approach, when Danish media laugh at our ability to waste time for fully 22 minutes of the first leg in Copenhagen, or even when Kasper Schmeichel patronises us as a great little nation altogether.

They see a world and a World Cup that won’t miss us — except for the bantz deficit — and they don’t see a true reflection of the work they put in.

That said, many of them do see, in the Ireland setup, a reflection of what happens in their own clubs every week. Football played with the ball at all age groups except the senior team, because its manager needs results quick.

And there is another Gordian knot.

The investment in those underage teams and coaches and pathways and emerging talent programmes largely depends on the results of the Ireland senior team and the revenue generated.

And yet the approach of the senior team sends the message that the kind of work being done underage is not really fit for purpose when things get serious.

The consultants could spit out a few dossiers on top-down reform and charge a few hundred grand for plotting that knot on a control chart.

The real football people see football without the ball as ‘playing the percentages’. But maybe it is time Irish football recalculated the percentages. Just to double-check. Crunched the numbers one more time, to see if there might be any mileage at all in having the ball. Even to rule out the possibility that some of those 22 minutes we wilfully wasted in Copenhagen might have been better spent in search of a goal.

Let’s put our formula up against the people who will stake everything on that first pass out from the back, regarding it as the key to loosening any knot. Who feel that is playing the percentages.

Perhaps there’s a Stokes Kennedy Crowley observer who will do his observing and sign off on the relative efficiency of the speculative punt instead. Of what Big Ron called ‘the fighting ball’.

While we’re carrying out this audit, perhaps we could examine this modern fad for pressing high up the pitch, for lung-bursting work-rate all over the field, and see if we got best value for all that ‘character, heart and desire’ we vowed to take to Copenhagen. Was it really best harnessed sitting in our penalty area booting the ball away?

Might the percentages have recommended operating at the opposite end, if at all possible?

But if all seems to be well, if the numbers add up and show we are indeed doing things just right, if it turns out we are playing the percentages, then we can pop a few memos to the underage coaches, to let them know the score, to finish up what they are at.

And put all our faith in the missionary.

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