Two Irish teams were on pitches on the opposite side of the world playing their respective World Champions within 36 hours of each other this last week. In soccer, our boys in green took on the mighty Spanish in Gdansk, the current European and World Champions and lost miserably despite the wonderful support of c.20,000 very forgiving fans. In New Zealand, our rugby team returned for a second bite of the apple against the formidable All Blacks in Christchurch and almost beat them, despite having minimal support.
Whether we like it or not, Roy Keane told us a few uncomfortable home truths after the game against Spain about our standards and expectations. Speaking as an expert panellist on ITV, he lambasted the Irish performance and also the singing of the fans despite the trouncing being handed out by the World Champions. Largely, I have to say I agree with his core point but his delivery was OTT and to an extent, offensive. As he is probably one of the best players ever to pull on an Irish shirt and in his playing days, his standards were always for perfection, he is in a place to hand down criticism. This team has nothing like the quality of players assembled by Jack Charlton so it is unfair to be overly harsh on them.
Giovanni Trappatoni has achieved his target of reaching a major championships but without players of sufficient quality to grace such a vaunted stage. There are rumours of dissent among the players, quality young players are being ignored and his ideas seem to focus on his way or no way – a recipe for disaster when other teams know the script before taking the pitch. Ireland is not producing the Roy Keanes, Liam Bradys, Paul Mc Graths etc at present and even if we were, Trap might ignore them! Many of his players now ply their trade in lower status teams and are not on the mercurial wages of many of their illustrious predecessors.
Even though it is a political hot potato, maybe Enda Kenny is right – why not join forces with our fellow islanders north of the border and form an all island Ireland team. In the past, it would have been a delight to see George Best, Pat Jennings, John Giles and Liam Brady play together in green. There could be future talent waiting in the wings on either side of the border and what a joy it would be to see them playing as a united team. It works well in Rugby – where would this team be without Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Andrew Trimble and previously such luminaries as Willie John Mc Bride, Mike Gibson and Trevor Ringland. We are too small of an overall population to be splitting our resources.
When you compare the leadership qualities of both Robbie Keane, Ireland’s soccer captain and Brian O Driscoll, our rugby captain, both are top scorers and multiple cap winners for their country, there is no comparison. O Driscoll appears to lay his life on the line everytime he wears the green of Ireland, while Keane, admittedly a trier, drifts in and out of games and often lets the head down if things are not going our way. Of course, his cause is not always helped by a very poor service from mediocre players, while O Driscoll has a lot of quality players all around him to help his case.
Roy Keane and Enda Kenny are shooting from the hip on different angles but our soccer team will not achieve miracles without the best talent available from this tiny island as a whole. We might be higher in the rubgy pecking order as only a relatively few nations play at the top level but our cause is helped immeasurably by being an all island team. As with the Peace Process, let us move forward towards sporting unity and maybe political unity might follow someday.