They say that the older you get the quicker the years go by and although I have never believed it, to be honest, this past few years have moved at a fair pace. So as all the Turkey and trimmings is put firmly to bed for another year let us reflect on what was an amazing year in Irish football. Managers get paid to produce results and looking back over the past twelve months the focus fell on Republic of Irealnd manager Martin O’ Neill and in the domestic game Cork City’s John Caulfield, two men who I know on a professional basis. They are so different in their styles of management, but both through their different ways get the job done.
It was always going to be difficult for Martin O’ Neill and his Republic of Ireland squad to qualify for the 2018 World Cup Finals giving the fact that they were in a tough group which contained Wales, Serbia, Austria and the so called minnows Moldova and Georgia. For Ireland to get the play off spot was an amazing achievement with the squad of players that Martin could call on. The play off draw was favourable to as the Irish pulled out a Danish cracker. A nil all draw in Copenhagen was a superb result and gave the Irish fans real optimism when they returned to Dublin for the second leg. Alas that is where the Irish dream ended and a nightmare began. The tactics in the first leg were spot on and got the desired result through closing down and keeping things tight especially putting the chains on the Danes star player Christain Erikssen. In the return leg when Shane Duffy put the Irish one up it certainly looked like that the Irish had one foot on the plane to Russia. Sometimes you can score to early in a game and this was one of those days, the ball hitting the Danish net only woke the away side up and reminded them they had come to Dublin to do a job. Once the Danes had equalised the Irish team did not have an answer, they seemed to crack under the pressure and did not have an response for a team that kept coming at them in waves. The frustrating part for the fans was the fact that Martin O’Neill did not seem to have a plan B once the Danes equalised. It turned into an absolute farce and the Irish were eliminated from next years World Cup with a five one defeat. Erikssen in a lot of people’s opinion is not in the league of been called ” World Class ” but on the night the way the Irish stood off him made him look like a world beater. It was a sad end to qualification for Ireland and if you look back at the group overall, O’Neill and his players failed to beat Austria, Wales or Serbia in Dublin. As Ireland go forward to their next qualifying campaign they must change the tactic of humping the long ball up to the front men in the hope that something will break for them, once they have fallen behind. Hopefully over the next couple of months Martin O’Neill and his side kick Roy Keane will devise a plan to qualify for the European Championships.
On the domestic scene it was John Caulfield’s Cork City who were the top dogs, they won the league and cup double and were full value for their achievement. The men from beside the River Lee put together a magnificent season and beat Dundalk to the top honours. Over the past few seasons the two clubs have been in the forefront of Irish football and brought the league to a higher level. The 2017 season belonged to a great Cork side in many people’s opinion. Winning the 2016 Cup Final gave Cork the belief that they could finally turn the tide and beat Dundalk to the number one spot. To win the league by seven points was a real statement and looking forward to this season, which kicks off on February 16th, it has the making of another promising campaign. Both Cork and Dundalk need more teams to step up to the challenge this season and make the league more competitive than just a two horse race. The upcoming season promises to be another terrific journey and if it is half as good as last years, we are in for a cracker.