Better nerves than boredom as players await Ireland squad announcement

Friday night marked four years almost to the day since Ireland’s last adieu to their Dublin faithful ahead of a European Championship bid and there were moments aplenty to make you wonder at how much has changed in that snapshot of time.

Better nerves than boredom as players await Ireland squad announcement

Roy Keane was still delivering judgement on the Republic and its players from afar back then as Giovanni Trapattoni’s side geared up for that last friendly and a visit to the Aviva of a Bosnia-Herzegovina side that had failed to gain entry to the carnival in Poland and Ukraine.

Keane would go on to target the ‘Green Army’ during the tournament with his assertion that Ireland remained anchored to the culture of ‘win or lose we’re on the booze’ — one he had railed against most famously after a 2-2 draw against Friday’s opponents in Amsterdam in 2001.

But he was already ripping the pin from more personal verbal grenades a month earlier with his criticisms of Aiden McGeady and his backing for a young James McClean who was making a late case for inclusion thanks to his form in England.

McGeady had an answer that night, coming off the bench to provide the cross from which Shane Long would score the only goal, but it was his own remark afterwards that, in hindsight, served as the first flashing red light for a side that would struggle so badly on the continent.

“To be honest, we could have probably done without the first week’s training,” the winger explained that evening before the squad embarked for a week’s work in Montecatini. “We’ve been moping around the hotel the last few days and you get a bit bored so it was good just to get a game.”

Nobody will mention anything remotely resembling that this time, not since Martin O’Neill’s quasi-tirade when questioned about perceived levels of boredom and excessive grind in 2012 and what he or the FAI might do to mitigate against them now and over in France.

Trapattoni didn’t help himself back then with a squad that by then was largely set in stone and a first XI so secure that he could name it a week before the Euro opener against Croatia without most people blinking.

O’Neill, whether by default or design, has been smarter. His decision to delay the naming of his own 23 until after Tuesday’s final outing against Belarus at Cork’s Turner’s Cross has served its purpose in keeping everyone on their toes.

Better nerves than boredom, after all.

O’Neill hasn’t had to handle the hoopla of a McClean either, the young tyro and someone whose popularity among the crowd stands in stark contrast to the miniscule amount of time he has been on the pitch wearing an Irish jersey.

There has been, in truth, little enough to ponder or speculate on this time.

O’Neill has gone on record to state that 90% of his squad is an open secret, but it may actually be higher than that with Stephen Quinn, Harry Arter and David McGoldrick three of those competing for one of the few remaining places.

Quinn fared well, breaking up play as the Dutch sought to control possession and tempo, and the other two had their moments, but there will hardly be an outcry regardless of who makes it and who doesn’t when the FAI send O’Neill’s last cut through to the Uefa offices in Nyon.

If there is a case to be made against any decision it may be that of McGeady if the on-loan Sheffield Wednesday midfielder squeezes in to the travelling party, though the player’s non-appearance Friday night doesn’t bode well given his need to bank game time.

As controversies go, even his inclusion wouldn’t be worthy of the name and the sense as it stands is one of an Irish manager and squad pitching itself at just the right pace after the elevated expectations and hoopla that the players themselves helped to foster in 2012.

Players and supporters alike engaged in weeks of fanciful talk of ‘doing a Greece’ four years ago, but there has been less of that bluster, if any, emanating from the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown since the squad came together last Sunday.

Luuk De Jong’s late equaliser Friday night may even help in maintaining that perspective.

Instead, it fell to Northern Ireland to field questions this week about emulating that Greek success of 2004, or Leicester City’s this year, and to fan the flames of hope on their flank of the island.

You hope they, too, won’t end up learning the hard way.

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