The Irish always talk a good game, but the gift of the gab won’t prevent defeat in Moscow. Actions speak louder than words, after all.
In the headlines, Richard Dunne solemnly promises the fans a repeat of that performance in Paris, 2009. A game which, one hastens to add, finished 1-1, with Ireland missing out on a place in the World Cup as a result. Certainly, Ireland were undeniably outstanding for most of the second leg, but crucially, with dubious circumstances aside, they simply did not do enough to progress through to the World Cup finals. “Typical Ireland”, as Roy Keane would say. They lacked that killer instinct, the unremitting desire to succeed, the winning mentality.
Hold on, surely that’s wrong? Isn’t Giovanni Trapattoni constantly reminding us of the importance of “mentality” in his team? Trapattoni’s record speaks for itself – he’s won an enviable amount of accolades and trophies – but we must remember that he is not infallible and he cannot work miracles, despite his connection to Opus Dei. Indeed, he’d have you believe that the mentality of the Irish team has improved almost exponentially since he and Marco Tardelli took over; we always play to win, he says. Results beg to differ, however, and the grim truth is plain to see: Ireland struggle to win when it matters. Two draws against Slovakia and an embarrassing home defeat to Russia.
It pains me to say it, but it seems that Ireland just aren’t good enough. Gone are the “Glory Days”. If qualification for a major tournament eludes the wily Giovanni Trapattoni, it is probably safe to say that it will be a little while longer before it is achieved. Shay Given is one of the greatest goalkeepers of the last decade while John O’Shea and Richard Dunne are seasoned professionals with a wealth of experience behind them. Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady are players who provide that spark of creativity in midfield and Robbie Keane has scored more than his fair share of goals throughout his career. And Trapattoni has struggled to assemble a team around that formidable backbone to qualify or even stake a strong claim for qualification.
The reason for this is clear: Ireland does not possess a prodigiously talented pool of players who are desperate to play for their country. This was painstakingly showcased against Russia at home and against Slovakia at home.
Ireland must win against Russia, but it will not be an easy task. Stephen Kelly and Darren O’Dea come into the defence to replace John O’Shea and Sean St. Ledger. Trapattoni sings O’Dea’s praises, “I like him. His mentality is strong and he is good in the air, so I am confident about him.”, but while O’Dea might be a fearless, hard-hitting defender, he has never performed consistently at the highest level and struggled for years to become a regular at Celtic. Irish fans will be forgiven for not sharing the confidence of Trapattoni. The sturdy defender talks a good game and declares his conviction that Ireland will, without doubt, be in Poland and Ukraine next year. After the last performance against Slovakia however, the chances of that have dropped.
While the defence has been dealt a weakening blow, the real danger area remains midfield. Throughout Trapattoni’s tenure, the central midfield pairing in particular has been consistently dreadful, both creating and preventing absolutely nothing. Russia waltzed through the midfield at will when they came to Dublin, scoring 3 goals without reply, while Slovakia also ran riot in midfield, reducing Whelan and Andrews to mere spectres, chasing shadows.
If Ireland are to come away from Russia with a result, they have to back up the bravado. They have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.