FAI chief executive John Delaney is confident the momentum generated by the Republic of Ireland’s memorable Euro 2016 campaign can carry the team through the World Cup qualifiers.
Ireland kick-off away to Serbia on Monday, September 5, as they plot a route to Russia in 2018 and Delaney believes qualification is an attainable goal.
The FAI moved to tie down Martin O’Neill and assistant Roy Keane to new contracts before the Euros and he’s challenged the pair and their backroom staff to make Russia a reality.
Delaney said: “We’ve employed Martin, Roy, Seamus McDonagh, Steve Guppy, and Steve Walford to ensure we give ourselves the best opportunity to qualify.
“We know it’s a difficult group, Wales had a very good Euros getting to the semi-finals and then we have Serbia, Austria, Georgia, and Moldova.
“There are no easy games in there but we don’t play international football to make up the numbers. We play to qualify and September starts that process.
“It would be brilliant if we could get to Russia in two years’ time.”
Delaney is spearheading the FAI Festival of Football in Tipperary, a week of activities that kicked off yesterday and will culminate with the weekend’s AGM at the Hotel Minella in Clonmel.
Speaking on Tipp FM’s Straight Talk, Delaney said: “It’s an idea I had maybe 10 years ago. I had a view, which I brought to the FAI board, that we should bring the AGM to a county, spend a week in the county, visit the clubs, bring some football personalities to the clubs, and leave some money behind as well.”
The FAI will dish out €100,000 worth of grants on a whistlestop tour of 29 clubs in Tipperary this week.
Last night, a local TSDL selection took on an international legends team, featuring Keith Andrews, Stephen Hunt, Ray Houghton, and Mark Kinsella, a game played at Cooke Park in Tipperary Town, the home of St Michael’s AFC.
A proud Delaney said: “It’s where I played my football when I was a kid, behind the chapel in Tipperary. It’s where I learned my love of the game.”
Delaney believes Ireland’s strong showing at the Euros has rekindled the relationship between the team and supporters. “It was a very good tournament for Irish football and the supporters were absolutely brilliant, great ambassadors for their country. From a football point of view, we left with great dignity, beaten 2-1 by France having been a goal up.
“It was a really strong performance but the highlight was beating Italy in the third game with that late goal from Robbie Brady. The public have fallen back in love with the team and now there are young players who have become the kids’ heroes, like Brady, Jeff Hendrick, Seamus Coleman, Darren Randolph, and Shane Long, since the goal against Germany last October.
“These are now the heroes for our kids growing up and that gives us a great momentum which I hope can carry us through the World Cup qualifiers.”
Delaney said: “Once we had qualified for the Euros after the Bosnia game, the board were really of the view that we would like to keep Martin and Roy, not only for qualifying but with the progress the team has made. Everybody is looking forward to September and continuing the success of the last 12 months.”
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