I don’t know which was more frustrating, the 0-1 defeat to Ukraine’s effective ‘B’ team or sitting for over an hour trying to drive away from the Aviva Stadium last Wednesday night. All the traffic heading West was down to crawl, two cars at a time getting through junctions on a green light when there was nothing coming left or right on the other road. Time for a re-think around match days by Gardaí. All it would have taken was for a couple of Gardaí at the junctions around Ballsbridge to help clear the traffic. Getting to car after the match at 10.15 was good I thought but when you are just clearing the city an hour later makes you really question the wisdom of coming up the capital for match. With Covid-19 it’s been a couple of years since I was in the Aviva to cheer on the Boys in Green but all the same old traffic issues remain since my last visit and in truth, probably have got a whole lot worse. It’s now €2 a litre for diesel so a €70 fill up before leaving Sligo was the day’s first expense. It’s hard not to get vent up about Dublin’s traffic. Be it commuter time or not is just a complete mix of cars, motorbikes, scooters, mopeds, buses, bicycles (growing in number very day) and the Dart all vying for the same congested space on narrow roads. It’s nothing short of a nightmare. It you can drive in and out of the city without clipping one then it’ll have been a successful journey! To get safely to a parking spot in or around the Aviva is no mean feat and then of course you have to fill up a parking meter, cheaper that a clamp as one motorist who parked across the road from me discovered when he returned to his car after the match. A bite to eat can be an expensive sojourn in Dublin pre-match but €50 for three burger and chips in a fancy restaurant close to the ground where I was asked if I had made a reservation on entering wasn’t bad at all. I certainly didn’t have to keep that receipt for the Joe Duffy Show! After the match, having slugged it out for over an hour at a snail’s pace along the canal, you suddenly find the M50 has come to a standstill thanks apparently to a driver driving the wrong way towards Dublin. The tailback was miles long but luckily the slip road to Maynooth was closeby and it was back on to the old N4 until Kilcock before rejoining the M50. That’s the worst about travelling to Dublin these days no matter what time of the day it is or even what day, there’s always something likely to happen on the M50 that’ll set you back at least an hour or more. So far, the public have bought into the management of Kenny. Any other nation having lost to Armenia in their previous match would struggle to get 20,000 through the turnstiles but the Irish supporters are both loyal and desperate for success. It had been an entertaining contest in many respects, plenty of nose and colour amongst the 40,000 plus crowd with the Ukrainian fans holding pride of place in the stadium and they were rightly given a warm welcome. Football must be the last thing on many of their minds.Amongst the crowd was 100 Ukrainian fans from Sligo who got to the match thanks to Sligo LEADER Partnership Company who had contacted the FAI. After organising buses to various pick-up points around the county and with the help of Sligo Local Link and Clasp Sligo they were on their way to the Aviva Stadium. It was manager Stephen Kenny’s first home game of the Nations League group having lost 0-1 to Armenia on the previous Saturday. All of a sudden the pressure was on the boss again despite an unbeaten eight match run going into that match in Yerevan. Pity, by the way, that Sligo Rovers’ number one, Ed McGinty wasn’t called into the squad as a replacement for the injured Bazunu rather than James Talbot of Bohemians who also pulled out injured after the Ukraine defeat. Only two competitive wins in 17 matches wasn’t exactly inspiring stuff nor was the fact Ireland haven’t won at home in three years. There’s always hope when Ireland are at home and they certainly couldn’t have asked for better support from the terraces on Wednesday night. It’s games like these which definitely mark down the Irish fans as being amongst the best in the world, backing their team when times are tough not jumping on the bandwagon when we qualify for a major tournament. Wednesday’s performance bore all the hallmark of previous matches under Kenny. Good, honest endeavour for the first 20 minutes when everything is thrown at the opposition but the key to a goal is left unlocked, the heads drop and confidence just drains from the team just like the fans, You’re then left hoping our biggest threat, centre back Shane Duffy will get his head to corner or free kick-off in the dying minutes of the match when we inevitably rally. It almost worked again against Ukraine but his late header came crashing off the crossbar. So, were do we go with this Irish team? On paper it’s not a side of top quality players – their clubs point to that straightaway and on Wednesday night it’s painfully clear why this current crop are nowhere near the elite level in England. For all the hype surrounding Caoimhin Kelleher of Liverpool he has looked far from assured against Armenia and Ukraine and indeed against Scotland. . Beaten from distance in both matches (the first Ukraine goal was rule offside) he was also caught watching the ball sail into the net for the goal which did count on Sunday night. In the absence of Gavin Bazunu surely next in line is Mark Travers who has had more game time with Bournemouth this past season? Kelleher needs first team football and soon and if that means leaving Liverpool then so be it but he cannot become a top class international goalkeeper languishing on the bench and playing a few Carraboa Cup matches every season. But there are question marks all over the current crop of Irish players.
an Seamus Coleman and Shane Duffy continue to grind out performances as they progress in years? Duffy is a real goal threat but far from comfortable playing out from the goalkeeper under Kenny’s style and he was badly caught out against Scotland when playing the ball straight to what turned out to be a wasteful Scottish attack.
Enda Stevens has struggled and so did back-up full back, Cyrus Christie against Ukraine with both being replaced as the match wore on by Alan Browne and James McClean.
Jeff Hendrick has been most disappointing, never pushing on from sterling performances at Euro 2012 though there are bright sparks in Josh Cullen and Jason Knight and of course Chiedozie Ogbene though the latter looked tired against Ukraine but he was more effective against a very disappointing Callum Robinson.
Pick of the team at the moment are centre backs, Nathan Collins followed by John Egan though playing three centre-halves doesn’t appear to be benefitting this Irish team. Tactically, it leaves us exposed on too many occasions.
It’s a results business as they say and the buck stops with the manager but Kenny took over when things were at a very low ebb.
New players had to be brought in and Kenny has done an exceptional job at doing this, building the confidence in the young players.
Turning the team into a winning one has proven to be a formidable challenge for Kenny and it remains to be seen if the FAI will be patient and continue to wait for positive results.
Kenny is earning too at this level and it may well take him another year to get his team playing consistently. He needs players playing regularly for their clubs be it in the championship in England or the Premier League.
Obafemi looked sharp when he came on against Ukraine but he’s far from the finished article and he gave the ball away too much in his substitute performance in Armenia, one of the times leading to the only goal of the game for the hosts.
Everyone is going to have to be patient over the next couple of years with this Irish side. It’s certainly a learning curve all round. Kenny took over it must remember when a lot of senior players finished up their careers.
He has brought in new faces and there’s more to come from an impressive under 21 team. It’s a pity the likes of Aaron Connolly haven’t pushed on at club level. The same with Troy Parrott and it certainly hasn’t been Kenny’s fault that we have stuggled in front of goal and the fact we once had a pair of exciting forwards who now find themselves being loaned out from their Premiership clubs (Spurs and Brighton).
Of the duo, Parrott looks more likely to fulfill his early career promise. He was most impressive in the 3-0 trouncing of Scotland on Saturday and it’s certainly a big season ahead for him whatever division he finds himself in.
A big test awaits last night (Tuesday) in Poland when we take on Ukraine. A draw would be a good result and keep the momentum going from the Scotland win. It may well be a case of hot and cold with this Irish team for the foreseeable future but there are really good signs of progress under Kenny and supporters have bought into his style of play. Crowds are back and the green shoots on the field of play are also emerging.