Republic Of Ireland : How The Mighty Have Fallen
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What does the future hold for Irish football? It seems a long time since the pleasant success of 2002. Today on the blog, Kevin Doocey considers where Irish football finds itself as it looks towards 2014.
If you were to ask a bunch of Irish people what their memories were from the year 2002, Ireland's performance at the World Cup in South Korea and Japan would be up there with their favourites.
A team, under the management of Mick McCarthy, headed for Asia with the hopes of pulling off a result or two, but at the same time, the nation didn't expect a sterling campaign either. Indeed hopes for Ireland at the World Cup plunged when arguably the best midfielder in Europe at the time, Roy Keane, pulled out of the squad and jetted home - days before their first game.
Keane was unhappy at the training facilities at the Irish camp, claiming it was like training on a car park. So with all that considered, the Manchester United man got on the next plane back home to walk his dogs.
The Success Of 2002
A sad affair for Keane himself, who would have been set for his best outing at a World Cup, and ultimately his final performance at a major championship in an Ireland jersey. Indeed his departure left Mick McCarthy's side without their much-needed lynch-pin in midfield and as suggested at the time: without a hope of achieving anything at the competition itself.
As the intriguing story goes - Ireland actually went on to qualify from their group, drawing against Cameroon, Germany and beating Saudi Arabia 3-0 in the process.
They were drawn with Spain, and after finishing 1-1 at full-time (nobody can work out how Ireland didn't win it in normal time), the game eventually went to penalties where Ireland seemingly left their shooting boots back in Dublin.
In a penalty shoot-out that most people from the Emerald Isle would rather not talk about even to this day, Gaizka Mendieta's dodgy penalty trickled over the line and Ireland were eliminated.
It was a fantastic achievement getting to the Last 16 and it's still fondly remembered - especially Robbie Keane's goal in the dying seconds against Germany to tie things up. Only Robbie and a certain Ronaldo of Brazil managed to score against Germany's Oliver Kahn in that World Cup, so that it was a special outing for Ireland in South Korea & Japan to say the least.
Looking Toward 2014
Fast forward to 2012 and Irish football is in disarray. From grass-roots level to the international scene; Ireland are getting left behind.
Despite qualifying for the European Championships earlier this year - for the first time since 1988 - ROI ended up having a shocking campaign. Scoring only one goal for the entire group stage, they finished bottom and went home outclassed; outplayed, and outdated.
The rapturous support and enthusiastic fans that Ireland brought to Poland is something that will go down in the archives of 2012 but you compare it to the great memories of 2002 which I have mentioned above, you can see just how much the country has regressed as a footballing nation.
Fair enough, the eventual finalists (Spain & Italy) came from the same group as Trap's men and perhaps that indicates they weren't really given a fair shot at the tournament, however, I would confidently say that they still wouldn't have qualified from any one of the groups.
Sad, but probably the truth.
Now as World Cup 2014 Qualifying campaign gets underway, fans are back to the same old garbage with Giovani Trapattoni. The long ball, playing players out of position and more importantly - failing to field his best 11. 99% of supporters are sick of it, and despite recording our first win away from home in Kazakhstan - it was depressing to watch. Mind you, it also took 2 goals in the space of four minutes before the final whistle saved our blushes against 142nd ranked team in the world, for now at least. The other one percent are in denial.
The days of Roy Keane, Matt Holland, Jason McAteer, Ian Harte, Niall Quinn, Damien Duff, and Steven Finnan to name but a few are well and truly gone.
Instead, we have a starting eleven including Stephen Kelly, Darren O'Dea, Sean St.Ledger, Stephen Ward, Glenn Whelan and a 32 year-old past his prime, Robbie Keane.
While the inclusion of James McClean, James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman and even Robbie Brady of Manchester United spark some confidence in the future of the international team - they won't make any progress under the leadership of an outdated Italian.
Less than a decade ago Ireland were locking horns with the worlds best, and holding their own ground. Now they go into every game hoping that their opposition are that little bit worse than themselves.
The FAI (Football Association of Ireland) need sort things out and relieve Trapattoni of his duties, and quickly. Appoint someone new, or ever bring back Mick McCarthy. How suiting would it be if he led Ireland to their first World Cup since his tenure ended?
One can live in hope...
Kevin Doocey is a freelance football writer and the founder of the Newcastle United blog Tyne Time
Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinDoocey
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