So the Republic of Ireland Football team have qualified for a major finals for the first time in a Decade. Hooray. Job done.
Stop the press, its time for the nation to rejoice and crack open the tins of Guinness. Or is it?
2002 and all that
2012 also marks the 10 year anniversary since Saipan. I get the dread even writing the very word. Its almost 10 years since an unfortunate and wholly avoidable sequence of incidents lead to one of our greatest ever players deciding to walk away from a tilt at the greatest prize in planet football. Now this article is not going to delve into who was right between Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane.
Instead, the focus will be on whether any lessons have been learned since then and whether Ireland can avoid shoddy preparation and go into Euro 2012 knowing that they have prepared properly for what will be one of our toughest examinations yet.
Looking beyond the clear clash of personalities between Keane and McCarthy, the original main gist of Keane’s angst was inadequate preparation. Ostensibly Ireland travelled to Saipan on the pretext that it was a training camp to prepare both physically and tactically for the battles that lay ahead in Japan.
In reality however, the Irish team arrived on this remote island looking like a bunch of Paddies away for a jaunt rather than being in preparation for the World Cup. No training gear was present upon arrival and this set in motion the train of thought in Roy Keane’s head that Ireland were wasting their time. Who could blame him for thinking that? A football team travelling half way across the planet only to find out that they dont’ have the necessary equipment to train? Farcical even if it was later claimed that the purpose of Saipan was for “rest and relaxation.”
Of course the Genesis Report which was commissioned following the public outcry over Saipan demonstrated that the FAI were guilty of a chronic lack of communication with the manager Mick McCarthy and the Captain Roy Keane. The situation was arguably retrievable even after the infamous bust up between the pair but poor communication rendered a reconciliation inconceivable.
The Trapattoni era.
A similar problem could potentially occur under the present regime one feels. James McCarthy (Injured but failed to turn up for a squad and has been cold shouldered since) and Darren Gibson (Trap publicly suggested he leave Man Utd) are but two players who have been caught out by blurry messages and public words from management which hint at a poor communication channel between players and management.
It is interesting that these communication problems seemed to intensify once Liam Brady left his management role and returned to the RTE studios. The Arsenal legend undoubtedly acted as an important conduit between Trap and his players. The communication issue however has been all but forgotten now following the welcome panacea of qualification.
We have seen in the early days of Giovanni Trappatoni’s reign that he struggled to understand the Irish mentality of the lads needing to enjoy a night out following or even before a match. (see the banishment of Andy Reid from the squad as an example). The reality of the situation is that the Irish team will be away for up to 3 weeks minimum during this tournament. It is impossible to expect that the Irish players will not have a few “blow outs” during the build up to the tournament.
No Irish supporter would begrudge the players having a drink or two and arguably its a part of the Irish psyche which helps us bond. However it remains to be seen if Trapattoni will tolerate or understand this sort of behaviour before the Euros. A month long tournament is a completely different ball game to qualifying matches. One need only look at the England rugby team at this years World Cup to see the corrosive effect poor behaviour will have on performance.
The point here is that it is important that the management and the players are all singing off the same hymn sheet in order for Ireland to try and achieve to their maximum potential. If not, one would hope that the communication lines are well organised in the FAI. Perhaps a wise course of action would be for the FAI to suggest to Trapattoni that we appoint an ex player as a liaison officer/mediator between players and management.
No less a coach than Fabio Capello felt it wise to appoint David Beckham in such a role for the 2010 World Cup for England. More good than harm was done by the appointment and morale was good in the camp by all accounts before the wheels fell off the English bandwagon at the hands of a devastatingly brilliant German side.
A Role for Kilbane?
Perhaps , the FAI could foresee potential problems and maybe suggest to Trapattoni than a respected ex player such as Niall Quinn or Kevin Kilbane be appointed to act as a link between players and management.
It would be a tragedy if the lessons of Saipan were not heeded.
Ironically, the main lessons of Saipan have indeed been learned by Ireland but alas not necessarily by the soccer team. The Irish rugby team regularly cite Keane”s winning mentality as a turning point in Irish sporting history. The likes of Paul O’ Connell and Brian O’ Driscoll have spoken endearingly of Keane for his iron will refusal to accept second best for Ireland.
The fact that we are a small nation need not matter a jot if we get our preparation right. Once we have the preparation right then we can use the great intangibles that our people possess in our favour. Fantastic team spirit, inspiration from the fans, no little skill and a work rate that would put any nation to shame are just some of the attributes which Irish teams possess. The Irish Rugby team have demonstrated that the sky is the limit once all the ducks are in a row.
It is hard to know if John Delaney is playing the media game but he has been quoted as saying that:
“We want to get our tournament training camp and hotel picked quickly, absolutely.
“Then we can organise our pre-tournament training camp, where we’re going to be based after whatever games we have in May.”
This all sounds very encouraging but it would be much more encouraging for the Irish fans to see Delaney deliver promptly on these practical and administrative tasks rather than by indulging in any leaping attention seeking celebrations across the pitch to celebrate a “big” result such as the draw in Moscow.
The fans, players and management want to say to themselves at the end of Euro 2012 that we really gave it a go. The excuse of not having prepared properly or a hard luck story of being in a tough group won’t cut any ice. John Delaney claimed at the Euro 2012 draw that he was “delighted for the supporters,” and that “We are not in the tournament to make up the numbers, we will give it a go.”
The unfortunate reality from World Cup 2002 is that there shall forever be a question in Irish minds of “What if?”
Hopefully when the book is closed on Euro 2012, we will not be left asking the same nagging question.