To claim that the Republic of Ireland football team is swirling in a quagmire of shit is a bit of an understatement. In truth, Ireland's fate in Group 4 of the World Cup 2006 qualifiers was as predictable as that of a drunk farmer from Cavan trying to take on Mr. T, armed only with three potatoes and a whistle. Watching the final three games against France, Cyprus and Switzerland was enough to put even the most hardened of Irish supporters into a coma. The exuberance and passion that we saw in Paris last autumn had ceded into tedium and ineptitude. This Irish squad, seemingly rejuvenated under Brian Kerr, was shown to be nothing more than a cut-and-paste team, a hollow side bereft of inspiration, desire, and most importantly, any traces of true quality. The fallout from this 'glorious failure' has been swift and tiresome in its inevitability. Brian Kerr's tenure as manager has well and truly been flushed down the crapper, leaving this team at a crossroads even more daunting than that which was faced post-Saipan.
In their search for a replacement for Kerr, the FAI [Football Association of Ireland] have already begun to shovel their delusions of grandeur into the media faster than Darren Campbell on Prozac. Sir Alex Ferguson, Martin O'Neill and David O'Leary are apparently the forerunners for this position, or so FAI Chief Executive John Delaney would have us all think. None of these men are likely to touch the job with a ten foot barge pole. This comical exhibition of crap personifies the problems that the FAI are likely to face in the coming years. Rather than come to terms with Ireland's limitations as a team, Delaney and his cronies at Merrion Square perceive the Irish national side to be a true football giant, espousing quality from every orifice. Bollocks. The collective pool of Irish talent, for now at least, has well and truly dried up.
This Irish side, unlike any other this writer can remember, instils supporters with little or no confidence in their ability to compete at an international level. In the past, the list of truly world class players at the disposal of the national team rivalled any of our European competitors. Kevin Moran, Paul McGrath, Roy Keane, Liam Brady, John Aldridge, Tony 'I'm not really Irish, don't tell Customs' Cascarino, Steve Staunton and Frank Stapleton are names that inspire notions of bravery, passion and triumph in the name of the Irish cause. Players such as these can no longer be called upon to pull on the green jersey, and Irish football has suffered as a result. Brian Kerr, in all his lukewarm glory, was forced to operate with a squad of utility players, cockney wide-boys and water carriers. To lay the failure of this current side at the feet of Kerr is indeed short-sighted. He just didn't have the quality at his disposal.
The prospects for the future are no more encouraging. With the retirements of Roy Keane, Kenny Cunningham and Steven Carr, this side is utterly devoid of leadership or experience of any kind. “What about Robbie Keane?”, you may say. Pah. It is indeed a troubling situation when the Irish attack is spearheaded by a top-heavy runt from Tallaght who possesses as much football intelligence as a newborn calf. Damien Duff, for all his quality, is not a player who responds well to the attacking burden that Ireland increasingly places on him. Kevin Kilbane resembles a cross between a scared ferret and a pedestrian trying to cross the M7. John O'Shea is a player that is drowning in his own versatility, increasingly becoming a plug for both club and country, filling holes wherever he is needed. As for the former great white hope, one Liam Miller, it is now evident that this man is so lightweight his middle name must be helium. In Shay Given, this Ireland side possess the last consistent and truly world class performer we are likely to see for some time. Surely he must be the only plausible candidate for the now vacant captaincy.
At times like these, when a team has collapsed under a burden of expectation, when a manager has been thrown to the wolves, and the bandwagons have begun to circle the crash site, it is easy to be overly critical. In the true nature of the Irish football fan, our support will not waiver. We will continue to echo our favour as blindly passionate as before. However, it is worryingly clear that in the future, the essence of our belief will not be derived from our faith in the present, but our fondness for the past. Barring a minor miracle, the future of Irish international football will not give us much to shout about.