Almost five years to the day since he was chiefly and heroically responsible for a backs to the wall performance away to Russia which became known as the ‘Miracle In Moscow’, the now retired Richard Dunne watched on television last Monday as Ireland escaped with another unlikely point away from home, this time in Belgrade.
And the former rock of the Irish defence couldn’t help concluding that, from Giovanni Trapattoni to Martin O’Neill, little has changed.
“It was typical of Ireland, exactly the sort of performance we’ve been putting in for years,” he says. “You look back a long time and there’s no match you watch where you think ‘yeah, we played great’. Listening to the manager afterwards, he was saying it’s all about the result. And that’s normal, because nobody will remember in two years, if we qualify, that we were crap wherever it was. It is all about the result.
“There’s no point worrying about it or criticising it because it’s not Barcelona or what Man City are now, or even what England are trying to do. But England are hopeless as well at the moment because they’ve gone too much the other way, where they just pass it for passing’s sake at times. Ireland’s always been about fight, tackle, get the ball in the box and see what you can do.”
And Dunne isn’t expecting any radical alteration in that approach any time soon.
“It’s going to take a long time for it to change. Probably when Roy Keane was playing we might have played a bit of football because he was the one Irish midfielder for a long time who could dictate matches and control the tempo. We don’t have that anymore and we’ve not had it for a long time.”
One notable exception, perhaps, was the 2009 play-off against France in Paris but Dunne puts that down to the particular circumstances of the game.
“We played with a little bit of freedom, like we didn’t have a care in the world, because it was all or nothing that night,” he points out.
“I don’t know, the old street kids came out in all of us. like we were free and we could enjoy it.”
For him, the contrast with Belgrade could hardly have been more acute.
“I was watching it the other night and it drives you mad. You’re thinking ‘Jesus, just do something different. Just pass it there.’ But is so easy to watch it and criticise and look at it from different angles.
“When you are on the pitch it is like (tunnel vision]. When you look up, all you can see is Serbian jerseys everywhere. It’s frustrating for a fan, and must be frustrating for the players who are running left and right and not getting a touch of the ball.”
If Ireland are to revolutionise the way they play, Dunne reckons it might mean shipping a few defeats and even sacrificing qualification for a couple of years.
“We will qualify for Qatar (in 2022) but everything up until then has to be sacrificed. In the meantime we won’t be doing anything, we will just be playing lovely football and the crowds may not stay the same because, while everyone loves nice football, they also love seeing goals.
“For Ireland, we do it the way we have always done it. And teams hate playing against Ireland. They hate coming to Dublin, listening to the crowd and knowing they are going to be kicked, pressurised.”
And for all those who want to see the Irish team have a go at playing something which might even vaguely resemble the beautiful game, Dunne thinks there’s a salutary lesson in the fortunes of English clubs in the Champions League in recent years.
“The English teams started to try and play in a continental way and became less effective because the one thing they always had was the fight and the British bulldog spirit which helped them in Europe,” he observes.
“They took that away and started to try and play fancy football and, for the last four or five years, their power in Europe is gone and they’ve not been able to reach the latter stages, because they’re putting themselves on a level playing field with everyone else rather than sticking to what they’re good at.
“With Ireland, that’s what we’ve got to learn. If we go and start trying to play football, well, everyone else has been doing it for 20 years so they’re all probably better than us.
So we should just do what we are good at — fight and, when the opportunity comes, try and play.
“I’m sure the lads know the other night that they weren’t great performance-wise but they got the result — so they’ll be happy.”
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