Football is a fairly simple exercise. Goals win games and if you score more goals than your opposition, as Michael Owen once said, you stand a good chance at winning. With Ireland right now it feels like we’ll never score again and, thus, never win again.
Coming into this Nations League campaign there was positivity in the air that we had finally turned the corner and this new look Irish team, after a tumultuous spell throughout the pandemic, had finally settled, we knew our system, we knew our strongest eleven and we were ready to banish the disasters of Stephen Kenny’s first phase with a new era of goals and wins and consistency.
As it turns out, it’s that positivity that gets you and the hope that kills you when it comes to being an Irish football supporter.
We hoped to beat Armenia at a canter, perhaps blooding some of the new faces in the squad as we strolled to victory. We were positive that Ukraine, coming off a highly emotional World Cup qualifying play-off, would be a powerful moment on the Landsdowne soil, but one we could brush away with a bit of quality, given they had surely emptied themselves against Scotland and Wales. And, speaking of Scotland, we hope to have their number. Relatively even on paper but they’re not that great either, and hopefully we can get our Nations League campaign back on track.
And hope, you’d imagine, is high on Stephen Kenny’s mind that his intentions of topping this group aren’t dead and buried after three games in June.
As Callum Robinson strode forward into the Ukraine box, you’d hope the referee would find empathy in his heart to give us, desperate for a goal, a penalty and give us the best possible chance from 12 yards. We hope Chiedozie Ogbene can find a bit of space to run into, that James McClean can hit that perfect cross, and that Shane Duffy, Nathan Collins, dear God anyone, can get their head onto the ball in the dying embers of injury time.
Looking ahead, we continue to live in hope. Two more chances to put things right and send us into a summer of footballess positivity. The Scotland game on Saturday, should a decent performance and a victory come in tow, will be massive. Likewise, the away fixture against Ukraine against a likely stronger team than the one we faced at the Aviva. You’d probably take a draw.
The mood music fluctuating in Irish football circles from one camp to the next has been stormy, but usually positivity and a hope for a brighter future weighed heavier. It certainly did amongst the match-going base and a lot of the discourse online. That tone may begin to turn should results not do so, as excuses dry up just as much as our activity in the six-yard box. In fact there’s already debates emerging online over who’d be a good fit to take the reigns and quiet sconces over the next manager odds. That particular list doesn’t provide much hope at all. Whether this happens this summer or in 2023 remains to be seen.
There’s plenty of hope too, for the next in line, whoever that may be. Whilst things may look bad at the moment, and they do, there is a future for this Ireland team. The next manager will have one of the best young stable of goalkeepers in Europe, he’ll have strong young defenders in Nathan Collins, Dara O’Shea and Andrew Omobamidele. He’ll have guys like well-blooded but still young and mouldable Jason Knight, Jayson Molumby, Adam Idah, Troy Parrott and Michael Obafemi. Looking at the U21s, he’ll have exciting young talent like Will Smallbone, Gavin Kilkenny, Tayo Adaramola and Mipo Odubeko.
The pool is there with plenty to hang your hat on. They may well even have a somewhat functioning football association to make the right moves and lay the route for further success, one that Stephen Kenny has paved by introducing a new spectre for Irish football with exciting and interesting new faces, but may not have had the machinery to smooth out the tarmac.
It’s all hope at the moment. Let’s hope we beat Scotland.