Richard Dunne was visibly ‘gutted’ after the Republic’s exit from the World Cup. Although manager Brian Kerr is reportedly upbeat about the team’s future, it seems as though in soccer Ireland (north and south) may have come to the end of an era which has lasted more than twenty years dating from about 1982 when Northern Ireland topped their group by beating Spain in Seville.The atmosphere around Landsdowne Road before the game was subdued. No one I spoke too seemed to have any real expectation that team was up to the challenge of taking three points off the Swiss. In the event, despite a fluent defensive and midfield performance, they simply didn’t have the bite in front of goal to get themselves ahead.
Now they face being downgraded to ‘weak’ team status, which will mean a hard road ahead with back to back games against strong teams in any future quest to qualify for European and World Cup tournaments. As Niall Quinn mentioned yesterday in an exclusive interview (to be published next week), Irish players are having a tough time getting and keeping their places in Premiership sides with clubs constantly raiding Eastern Europe, America and Africa for new talent. It’s going to be tough to pull together players of the top rank experience of O’Neill, Brady, Jennings, Stapleton and Quinn himself.
Whoever comes in after Brian Kerr is going to face a difficulty that Jack Charlton never had: namely a huge and, at times, viciously hostile press corps. If widely tipped favourite David O’Leary does take over, he may first have to lower expectations of what is possible before his squad ever get to put on their boots!