As Irish football slips further into crisis, U21 boss Noel King insists the public ought to lower their expectations when it comes to how the FAI’s international teams fare.
Martin O’Neill isn’t alone in coming under scrutiny after King’s crew dropped over the past five weeks from joint-top of their European qualifying group to third by losing three and drawing one of their final four games.
King took encouragement from his team’s improved performance in Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat in Germany compared to the 6-0 tanking by the same opposition in Tallaght four weeks earlier and genuinely believes Ireland’s teams are holding their own on the international stage. He even compared Ireland to England for its warped aspirations.
“I think Ireland have got some exceptional results at various levels, given the size of our country,” claimed King, due to extend his tenure to 10 years after the draw for the Euro 2021 qualifying campaign is made in December.
“All of us in the U21 camp rejoiced on Tuesday when we heard that the U19s had beaten the Netherlands to win their third game in a row.
“We seem to think like the English in that we expect too much. I’ve been saying that for years.
“If we feel England exaggerate the demands of their teams, well then we are reared in the same way. Only we’ve a much smaller group of players.
“Our U21 team were victims of early success in this campaign. It looked like we were going to challenge for a play-off, keeping our hopes alive until the second last game against Israel.
“But to face Germany in a big stadium in Heidenheim and hold them at 2-0, creating a few chances and hitting the post at the end ourselves, is more than acceptable for me.”
Only Ronan Hale, the Birmingham City striker on loan at Derry City, is eligible for the next campaign from the current batch.
Confirmation is expected over the next week of a friendly next month, featuring a new intake of players, including Liverpool pair Caoimhin Kelleher and Conor Masterson.
It was the result from Longford’s City Calling Stadium which provided a rare highlight of a terrible Tuesday for the FAI’s teams.
Tom Mohan’s U19s deservedly earned the plaudits for beating the Dutch but, according to King, it doesn’t necessarily mean the best of them will graduate into his U21 set-up.
The case in point is the 2016/17 grouping at U19 level.
That side narrowly missed out of reaching a first Euro finals since 2011, prevailing against superpowers Italy and Belgium but getting edged out by mini-group hosts Sweden.
Just two members, Hale and Declan Rice, elevated from that intake to the U21s.
“There’s a massive difference between underage football and our level, where they’re men,” King warned.
“It has a separate aura altogether. Maybe some players will come into the U21s for the next campaign or maybe they won’t. It is difficult to say right now.”