Martin O’Neill’s negative approach and attitude had a devastating effect on the confidence of the Republic of Ireland team and its ability to play football.
Something seems to been lifted with the arrival of Mick McCarthy who got the team back to performing the basics against Georgia.
On numerous occasions during the game against Georgia, Irish goalkeeper Darren Randolph was seen to hurriedly roll the ball to the feet of his two centre backs, desperate to get the team moving forward and up the pitch.
Why not launch it deep into the opposition half like he had been used to doing for the last couple of years?
It’s a small detail in a game that produced plenty of positive talking points for McCarthy and his players, but is also one of the most telling.
A manager’s personality and attitude towards the game is something that is intrinsically linked with the team he puts out on the pitch.
Aside from tactics, it is the thing we most associate our managers with when it comes to the team they manage.
Jurgen Klopp is all smiles and laughs with the occasional fit of rage, just like his Liverpool team and Borussia Dortmund before them.
Jose Mourinho sets his teams up with the objective of stopping the opposition first and foremost and has always instilled a siege like mentality in his most successful projects, a bit like his demeanour in the press.
It’s him against the world and that’s the way he likes it.
As circumstances change though, so can a manager’s approach and attitude and this is exactly what happened with Martin O’Neill after the play off against Denmark, which saw his side annihilated in front of a hopeful crowd who expected to be going to the World Cup.
This defeat brought with it a loss of confidence and a fear that he would lose his job that was then projected on to his team when they went out to play.
Fast forward to the next qualifying campaign and while football fans are a fickle bunch as we know, even the staunchest O’Neill supporter was finding it hard to defend him towards the end.
How could a team that beat Italy at the Euros be ceding control and possession to a Georgia side at home only a couple of years later, and in the end get played off the park by them?
Sure, the team had lost some players along the way but it was still nearly the same group with a few new faces.
The more and more pressure O’Neill came under the less football he instructed the team to play. It was all about results and not about performance.
The manager’s loss of confidence in his ability had transferred to the players.
There was a lack of urgency and a lack of creativity. The main objective was to come out at the end of ninety minutes having avoided and still with something to play for.
Against stronger opposition this is an acceptable approach and sometimes the smartest, but when you lack belief every team you face is stronger.
Gone were the short kick outs, quick throw ins and trying to hold on to possession. In came primitive football that was all about clearing your lines and maybe getting on the end of something from a set piece.
A common complaint from fans was that we simply did not have good enough players to compete at a decent level anymore.
This was something that was echoed by Manchester United fans towards the end of Mourinho’s reign at Old Trafford and we saw how that turned out.
If you hear something like that enough from your manager you can start to believe it yourself.
The truth is this Ireland team do have players capable of playing football and O’Neill chose not to do so in order to try to keep a hold of his job. Self preservation after all is a basic instinct amongst men.
Players do not simply forget how to pass a ball forward overnight. They are instructed not to do so, and this is what was happening under O’Neill.
The start of Mick McCarthy’s second spell in charge has begun in a similar vein to most new managers; the team looks refreshed and to be playing without fear.
Players look sharper and run harder while also expressing themselves more, all common features at the outset of any new manager’s rein.
What’s different about the performance against Georgia is that we saw just how starved the players and fans had been of watching and playing decent football.
To use one of the worst but probably most apt terms in modern-day football, “the shackles had come off”.
While it was only a win over a team that Ireland should be expected to beat, it was the performance that and approach to the game that gives fans hope for the future.
Quick movement, forward passing, urgency and creativity around set pieces and players being allowed to express themselves on the ball had all returned.
McCarthy’s job, like his predecessor before him, is to qualify Ireland for a major tournament but he has the foresight of knowing when his contract will be up.
Will this lead to a more courageous approach when his back Is against the wall? Only time will tell but all the signs so far are positive ones.