What has been an awful year for Martin O'Neill as Republic of Ireland manager ended last week when he stepped down from the top job after a run of bad results and horrible displays. His last game in charge was away to Denmark last week which in a strange way was very ironic, because in the second leg of the play offs for the 2018 World Cup it was Denmark who came to Dublin and thrashed Ireland five one, it was after that game that it started to all go downhill. The fall out from that defeat was massive and in my opinion Martin should have possibly gone then. Relegation from their group in the Nations League signalled the end for O'Neill and his assistant Roy Keane. Keane himself had caused a few problems during the summer when he had a row with Harry Arter and Johnathon Walters as the pair sat out training. After that incident O'Neill stood by his assistant Keane and in my opinion he was wrong to do so, in the modern game it will always go wrong when players get abused by management and in this case it led to Arter making himself not available for selection for one game. Although Keane and Arter sorted out their problems later on, the damage had been done. This was just one issue out of many issues that led to O'Neill,s departure, but it was the manner of which they got a draw away to Denmark last week that finished it for me. After a boring nil all draw in which Ireland never had a shot on goal,the manager announced in his press conference that he was happy with the way things were going and was looking forward to the qualification for the European Championships in 2020. Now everyone knows Martin is good with the media but this was a step to far, he was fooling nobody and after a phone call from chief executive John Delaney the manager stepped down, the words mutual consent were used but effectively those words tend to mean your sacked. Looking back over his time in charge O'Neill did a relatively good job with the players available to him and the 2016 European Championships was a great time to be an Irish supporter, but that time passed and things rapidly went downhill. One other big influence on the decision to remove O'Neill was also the fact that the fans were starting to vote with their feet and leave the Aviva Stadium with plenty of empty seats.
The dust had hardly settled on the news that O'Neill was no longer the manager when it was announced that the new man coming in was Mick McCarthy on a two year deal. Mick is expected to sign a contract over the coming days and he is expected to involve Robbie Keane in some role as part of his management team. As we all know this will be Mick,s second stint as Ireland manager and in my opinion it is a great appointment. During his last spell as Ireland manager the style in which his team played was exciting and the fans believed in him. Unfortunately his last tenure came to an end in the fall out from the famous Roy Keane carry on in Saipan. Although he did not go as a direct result of Saipan it rumbled on and he was on a loser with a couple of bad results. The general feeling on the ground now is that this is a good appointment and it certainly has the fans talking.
One interesting footnote to all this coming and going at the top level is the fact that the FAI have offered the Under 21 job to Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny and it is been reported they would like Stephen to step up to the top job in two years time when Mick steps aside. Now on paper this sounds like a great idea but I feel the FAI may have made a huge blunder by letting this news leak out to the media. If you look at the overall picture the question has to be asked that if Stephen Kenny has a bad run as Under 21 manager how in the name of god can he be expected to step up to the top job. Or what if Mick McCarthy comes in and does an unbelievable job and brings success to the role, does he then walk away ?. One thing is for certain though, the next couple of years are going to be very interesting in Irish football.
It does not matter what part of the world you live in, the events over the past couple of weeks have been horrific. The terrorist attacks in both Manchester and London have left many dead and destroyed a lot of lives. I will never understand what makes these so called terrorists do what they do in such an evil fashion. Many ordinary people have lost their lives and all they were doing was going out on separate evenings enjoying themselves, I fail to see the harm in that. With such atrocities been carried out around the globe, it is very hard to focus on anything else with any feeling of joy. Sometimes sport can take you away from all the problems and give your mind the break that it needs just to get you focussed again.
Over the past week or so, the Republic of Ireland have played two friendly games against Mexico and Uruguay and the results could not have been more different. Over the next two paragraphs let me bring you up to date on what happened as Martin O'Neill's squad continue their build up to the all important World Cup qualifier against Austria.
First up for Martin and the squad was a game against Mexico which was played in the MetLife stadium in New York. I have to admit that travelling so far to play a friendly seemed a bit daft to me, but in fairness it was used in the right way as Martin was able to give those players who play in the English championship a chance to get some game time under their belts as they had not played competitive football for a few weeks.
O'Neill played a very much experimental side and he also used a new system, the manager decided to line out with a three five two formation. The game as a contest was over after twenty six minutes when the Mexicans went two up through goals from Corona and Jimenez. The Mexicans ran the Irish ragged in midfield and totally controlled the game. James McClean who was making his fiftieth appearance for his country was made captain for the evening and even he could not pull the Irish together. The game finished three one to the Mexicans and they totally deserved the win, there is no argument about that. One plus for the Irish was the performance of substitute Stephen Gleeson when he came on and the Birmingham player got himself on the score sheet.
Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane must have had a lot to contemplate on the flight back to Dublin as next up was another friendly against South American opposition in Uruguay in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Although well beaten in New York it was not a disaster as the purpose of the exercise was to give players game time as I mentioned earlier. Martin in the past has not really looked at results from friendly internationals and I am sure this one would have been cleared from his mind when he got back to the Irish base back in Dublin.
If the Mexican result was disappointing for Martin O'Neill and his players the performance and the result against Uruguay was top class. This was the last preparation game for the match against Austria and it went so well, the manager had to be impressed. The game ended three one in favour of the Irish and the style in which they got the result was like a breath of fresh air. Ireland took the lead when Jon Walters scored a screamer from about twenty five yards out as he turned and hit a ball that seemed to be bouncing all over the place before he struck it. Uruguay equalised before half time and it was a bit of a calamity as both Shane Duffy and Darren Randolph got themselves in a mess as neither made a decision to clear the ball allowing Gimenez to head home.
I can only imagine what was said in the dressing room after the game about that. There was no need to worry as the second half performance by the Irish was the best I have seen in a longtime.
A further two goals by Christie and McClean saw the Irish complete a memorable night and take the victory with some style. The significant thing for me about the game was how the Irish passed the ball around and very rarely gave away pocession which if they repeat the same against Austria they will surely win. It was a game were Harry Arter played himself right in contention to start against the Austrians. The Bouremouth player probably put in his best performance in an Irish shirt since becoming part of the green army. The game went so well for O'Neill and his squad and now we move on to Austria in the hope of getting three more points on the way to qualification for the 2018 World Cup Finals.
One of the main complaints aimed at previous Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni was that he very rarely went to watch his international players live.The wily Italian chose to watch the players on TV in the comfort of his home in Italy.In fact it was only after he had a dressing down from his FAI bosses after the six one home defeat to Germany that the Italian started to visit the grounds in England on a Saturday.In my opinion this was one of the reasons he survived after that dismal performance against Germany.
One of the promises the new management team of Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane made at the outset was that they would get to see as many Irish players as they could, at all levels over the coming months.True to there word the pair have been out and about every weekend since they got the job.In particular Roy has been turning up everywhere and anywhere to scout talent for the Irish set up. It is so refreshing to see the lads in directors boxes when you turn on any game now televised live in Dublin.This is a huge plus and the players involved in these games must be so excited to hear the guys are in the stand,and there to watch them.
As we all know, Ireland will not have a competitive game till next summer,when we start our qualifying for the 2016 European Championships.With Keane at the games and watching these players it gives the Irish management team loads of options to find talent and blood them for the upcoming friendlies.They are throwing the net far and wide and if they can invoke the famous granny rule who knows what player they can bring on board.
It is a little known fact that over the period that Roy Keane had been out of management,he was scouting players all over the country in preparation for his return to management at whatever level. Roy has a vast knowledge of all the Irish players playing in England and not just at Premier league level.He has looked as low as reserve teams were a lot of the Irish lads are plying there trade.He is also passing on his knowledge to the youngsters,to help them gain first team experience and he has always been available to these youngsters on the end of a phone.
One thing Roy will not do is interfere in club managers attitude towards the Irish lads but it has to be comforting to all the Irish players that Roy is just a phone call away for these lads.It has been a breath of fresh air to see him around the games and it can only bode well for the future of the Irish set up at all levels that he is scouting these guys.The FAI have obviously given him an expense account and I for one hope it goes through the ceiling if it means he find players to get us through to France 2016.Good on you Roy,wonder what game you will be at this weekend ?.