Tuesday, 27 November 2018

The Worst of Both Worlds

They say a week is a long time in politics. The last one was certainly a long time for the Irish football parish's pumper in chief, John Delaney.

It started on Monday with the final Nations League clash away to Denmark. With the game already deemed a dead rubber after Ireland's haul of a single point from the first three games, the mood among a significant section of the support was of support for change. And not just a change of management, with confidence in Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane long since evaporated but a root and branch change in Irish football.

The game petered out in the expected manner with Ireland failing to have a single shot on target and a paltry 25% possession, With a section of the support expressing their displeasure at the management by displaying O'Neill out banners, their plan to bring a well-known banner bearing the words 'Problem Child' and a "delaneyout" hashtag was scuppered at the gate.

The flag, which refers to Delaney's description of the League of Ireland, features pictures of players such as Wes Hoolahan and Stephen Ward who had graduated from the league to the senior team and had been widely shared on social media beforehand. The publicity around it had somehow come to the attention of the Danish stewards who, according to fans who attended, told them they had been given pictures of it with instructions to confiscate it when searching fans,

Duly confiscated, the planned protest was reduced to the repetition of an unflattering song namechecking Delaney which was clearly audible on television and which reportedly caused a degree of friction between elements of the Irish support. Enquiries afterwards resulted in a statement from Danish FA Communications Manager Jakob Hoyer  stating, “Our guards were asked by UEFA to ­confiscate some banners that had a political message and fans were told why they were being confiscated.”

Quote how this statement could have been described as political is unclear, as is whether word of such protests had any impact on the FAI's decision making. Either way, the following day, Martin O'Neill was called to a meeting with Delaney and FAI Honorary Secretary, Michael Cody. By the end of it he was no longer Irish manager. Given that he and his assistant were less than a year into a two-year deal worth a reported combined €2.5m, the assumption would have to be that a significant portion of that was paid to create the vacancy.

Regardless, the vacancy was now created and announced on Wednesday morning. Speculation immediately began as to who would fill it. The fact that the Under 21s role was also vacant added an extra dimension to the search and opened up the opportunity to build a strong structure for the future.

It became clear early on that there were two main candidates in the frame, ex-boss Mick McCarthy who was immediately touted by a number of ex-players and managers and Dundalk boss and media favourite, Stephen Kenny. Both men had their positives and by midweek, rumours began circulating that Kenny had been offered and rejected the Under 21 job as he felt he was ready for the senior job.

By Thursday, there were more leaks coming from the FAI than you would,d see from your average sieve with the initial message seeming to be that McCarthy would be returning on a two year deal with a further two-year extension available. An impassioned debate between Kevin Kilbane and Nathan Murphy on Off the Ball summed up the two camps

Not long afterwards, further stories emerged that Stephen Kenny was still under consideration and that McCarthy wasn't a done deal. By that stage, my opinion was that McCarthy would be brought in for the Euros with Kenny to be promised the role afterwwards. Given the importance of the U21 position, I assumed that someone else such as Lee Carsley would come into consideration for that job.

By Friday afternoon. a tweet from Virgin Media Sport stated that "Mick McCarthy has been offered a contract to return as Republic of Ireland soccer manager." Given that he has spent the previous 3 months working for the station, it was fair to assume that their source was accurate. By now, the debate had switched to whether rumours of a €1.2m salary were in any way plausible.

Fast forward 24 hours and the Independent's Dan McDonnell broke the news that Stephen Kenny was leaving Dundalk to take over as U21 manager with a brief to oversee the underage international set up as a whole. In itself, this could have been seen as a good appointment. Kenny has great local knowledge and is familiar with many of the young players coming through the U19s in particular. His overall experience and commitment to an expansive style of play ties in with the style that Ruud Dokter has been trying to implement throughout the lower age groups. Bringing a group through a tournament cycle could be seen as good preparation for potentially taking the senior job down the line and would give Kenny experience of the international game to add to the European experience he gained with Dundalk.

Where this started to fall down was when this news was combined with an apparent guarantee that Kenny would then take over as senior manager after the Euros in 2020. This was followed by a tweet from the Mail's Philip Quinn that the McCarthy camp were in the dark about this aspect, which was replied to be another McDonnell tweet stating there was no confusion from the McCarthy side who were aware of the agreement. An official announcement from the FAI confirmed all on Sunday morning. Mick McCarthy was now Ireland boss with Kenny taking over in 2020.

Despite Stephen Kenny's impressive domestic and European record, this arrangement is unsatisfactory on a number of levels. Chief of these being the duration of time Kenny will spend as U21 manager. Even the noises from the FAI indicated that the role is of utmost importance for the future of the game in the country. So why give the role to someone you have promised a different role to before even one full tournament cycle is completed?
The qualifiers for the European U21 Championships begin in September 2019. They run until October 2020 with an extra month on top of that if you qualify for a play-off. The finals will take place the following summer in a country to be announced at the UEFA Executive Committee meeting that will be held in tandem with the senior European Champions qualifiers draw in Dublin this weekend.

John Delaney himself was front and centre three weeks ago when a joint FAI / IFA bid to host the 2023 U21 Euros was launched. Reference was made to how prestigious this tournament is with it being the second biggest international competition after the Euros proper. With confidence high that the bid will be successful, building towards that tournament should be a priority.

Yet, with an opportunity available to make an appointment to at least go through to the 2021 iteration, he has given the job to a manager who will leave halfway through that tournament cycle and before the qualifiers have even finished. If Kenny, as everyone hopes, is a success at U21 level then it's nonsensical to have him leave that role just when the qualification is reaching its critical point. It's a breathtakingly short-sighted decision that creates more questions than it answers.

Who will be in charge finish the qualifying campaign for U21 Euro '21?

As it has been confirmed that his backroom staff are staying at Dundalk, who will be assisting him while he is in the role?

Will this new backroom staff also be leaving the 21s when he steps up to the senior role?

If the job, as described, also entails an overarching remit for the entire underage set-up, where is the sense in changing the individual holding that position in 20 months time?

If Kenny fosters a successful working relationship with the U21 squad, how disruptive will his leaving be?

If, on the other hand, he is unsuccessful at that level then what is the sense of then giving him the senior role?

If Mick McCarthy, as everyone hopes, is successful in the senior role then how will that squad react when the prearranged handover happens?

None of those questions were answered in the press conferences held by Delaney, McCarthy or Kenny over the last two days.

The entire process smacks of a typical Irish political stroke. Delaney clearly didn't believe that Kenny was a safe enough bet to deliver qualification for Euro 2020. With the last year wasted by his decision to award a new contract (with a hefty pay rise) to Martin O'Neill, any new manager would have no friendlies or camps to work with the players. So an experienced pair of hands was his preference.

He also clearly wanted Kenny for the U21 job but Kenny wasn't prepared to accept that role without having guarantees about getting the senior role in 2020. So having read the mood music in the media as being strongly in favour of giving Kenny the senior job, it seems clear that Delaney has tried to counter the attention that he was coming under by coming up with a cack-handed off the hoof solution that he thinks will keep everyone happy. And sacrificed the opportunity to implement a proper structure at U21 level in the process.

Stephen Kenny would still have been around in two years time and having described the Ireland manager's job as a greater honour than managing Real Madrid or Barcelona, would surely have accepted it at that point if it became available. Indeed, his experience may have been enhanced more by leading Dundalk into another European campaign, where they will be seeded in the early rounds next season.

The U21 role deserves better than a stopgap. A structure to enable that side to have a real crack at the  2023 tournament on home soil should have been put in place and that opportunity has now been missed.

The type of individual Stephen Kenny is means it’s possible that he could get a team and a proper succession in place by the time he leaves the role. But it's very difficult to embed something like that in a 20-month window.

If this latest Delaney stroke comes off, it will be more by accident than by any grand design.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

A Tale of Three Irelands

A google search for 'the unifying power of sport' returns just shy of three million results in under half a second. Yet, as much as it can unify, sport also has the potential to divide. Both sides of that coin were visible at Lansdowne Road during the last week as three separate Ireland teams took to the pitch in radically different atmospheres.

Despite being a staunch Ireland fan since I was old enough to form memories, a part of me has always thought it a shame that, unlike the vast majority of sports, there are two separate football teams on the island. The majority of people probably look at the split of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) away from the Irish Football Association (IFA) as being linked to the partition of the country in the early 1920's. But, while both splits occurred in the same general timeframe after several years of conflict, the conflict in terms of football was as a result of alleged IFA bias towards Ulster rather than the desire for independent nationhood. The final straw was the refusal of the IFA to schedule the Irish Cup semi-final replay between Glenavon and Shelbourne in Dublin and insist that the second game be played in Belfast. 

The desire of both sets of blazers for power over football on the island led to both associations claiming to be the defacto association for the island in its entirety. While the likes of the Irish Rugby Football Union and the Golfing Union of Ireland, along with governing bodies for Boxing, Hockey, Cricket etc were doing their best to promote their sports across both sides of the newly drawn border, the two football associations were butting heads with various efforts to reunify throughout the twenties and thirties falling short on sticking points that had nothing to do with the politics of the time but everything to do with perks and power.

                           Ireland kit circa 1930s/1940s           Northern Ireland kit circa 1930s/1940s 

In fact, both associations wore the same shirts and used the name of Ireland throughout the thirties and forties. They also carried on selecting players from each side of the border up until 1946 in the case of the FAI and 1950 with the IFA. The growing global nature of the game saw both Ireland's enter World Cup qualifying for the first time at this stage and after Tom Aherne, Reg Ryan, Davy Walsh and Con Martin played in qualifiers for both sides, FIFA intervened to prevent the situation happening again,

The late Con Martin with some of his caps from each Irish team

A gentleman's agreement between both sides not to pick players from outside each jurisdiction meant that relations were relatively benign and there were even talks throughout the seventies while the troubles were at their height where reunification was on the agenda. Even George Best went on the record, stating he had ‘talked to several players from the South and they all want to see a full Irish team. I know the Northern Ireland players think the same way.’

Indeed, an All-Ireland squad of 14 including seven Northern players played world champions Brazil in a famous 1973 exhibition game but that team had to take the field using a Shamrock Rovers moniker after IFA objections prevented them using Ireland as planned. In a nice touch, Con Martin's son Mick got one of the Irish goals in a 4-3 defeat.

The All-Ireland side that played Brazil in 1973

Talks continued throughout the seventies although various factors including the two sides being drawn against each other for the first time in the Euro '80 qualifiers prevented a resolution being found. Cormac Moore's excellent book, The Irish Soccer Split, provides great detail on those failed efforts.

The main argument for reunification was that a single side would be better equipped to qualify for major tournaments. This was rendered moot not long after with Northern Ireland qualifying for consecutive World Cups in 1982 (with Ireland only denied by some scandalous refereeing in a number of games) and 1986 and Ireland following suit with qualification for Euro '88 and World Cups in 1990 and 1994. With the qualification for USA '94 sealed amid a poisonous atmosphere in a Windsor Park game against the North, any talk of reunification seemed a long way off and has never been back on any agenda since.

While the atmosphere at Lansdowne last Thursday was a long way from 25 years before, the nasty edge to it was still dispiriting. From seeing pictures of Northern Ireland fans displaying Para regiment flags to the booing of both anthems to Irish fans roaring IRA slogans at 'orange bastards', it was a long way from France two summers ago where both sets of fans mingled good-naturedly. As I said in the aftermath of Thursday's game, maybe the two-year diet of Brexit, backstops and the proximity to the annual poppy fascism season has seen things regress.

It's because of the power of sport to unify that my regret about football being split on the island stems. The lines have been well drawn at this stage between both sets of supporters and it would be nigh on impossible for either group to simply subsume into the other. Reunification of the sides will only ever happen if there's reunification of the nation. I've always wanted to see that but I'm more than aware that if it's ever to happen, accommodating and welcoming the opposing tradition on the island has to be a big part of it.

Watching a packed Lansdowne Road rise to acclaim Jacob Stockdale, the son of a vicar from Newtownstewart in County Tyrone, as he grounded the winning try for a 32 county Ireland against the All Blacks on Saturday, I couldn't help but wonder how the support for a national football team would have developed had no split occurred. And whether that may have had a knock-on effect in society.

The demographics mean that it would be overly simplistic to look at the support that rugby (and indeed other sports such as hockey and cricket) draws from both sides of the divide and extrapolate that to football. While the other sports mentioned earlier have always drawn support from the middle and upper-class ABC1 base so beloved of rugby sponsors and advertisers, football's history on both sides of the border is a working-class one.

And it was within the working class communities of the North that the brunt of the troubles were felt and where identity was something people could grip onto when they had little else.

It would be ridiculous to say that had both communities followed a single team they probably wouldn't have been ghettoised by "peace walls". Or that the civil rights issues that existed in the North would have been solved by sport.

The hooliganism that blighted matches between nationalist and loyalist supported sides in the Irish League is well documented, with the demise of Belfast Celtic and the exclusion of Derry City the most high profile examples of those problems. Indeed, these highlighted the issues that remained within the IFA for years after they had caused the split in the first place.

Despite the efforts that have been made regarding inclusivity, the NI anthem and flag still give credence to the view that, to paraphrase, it's a Protestant team for a Protestant people. Yet it's extremely unlikely that those symbols would have survived to this day if the IFA had been an All-Island organisation rather than remaining one forged in the six counties. With the aforementioned gentleman's agreement long now forgotten, the Ireland team has become a de facto 32 county nationalist team understandably leaving little desire for changing those symbols within the IFA or their support.

Family links with the composer of Amhran na BhFiann make its playing a proud highlight of any Ireland game for me, both at home and abroad. But would a rugby style arrangement with a neutral song (albeit one a lot better than the godawful Ireland's Call) have been palatable to our support had it always been thus?

Looking at how both communities united behind Monaghan boxer Barry McGuigan in the eighties at the height of the troubles in another working-class sport showed that it was possible for supporters from each tradition to unite behind one force. But any individual sportsman has a finite career. In team sports players come and go but the team abides.

How might football on the island have evolved if all 32 counties were cheering a team representing all at the World Cup in 1958? Or if instead of two Ireland's splitting four consecutive World Cup's from 1982 onwards a single team had contested four in a row? Or even if the old Home Nations Championship had become an annual Four Nations tournament throughout the 20th century? A team featuring Jemnings, Giles, Brady and Best while that tournament was still one of the few live on TV couldn't have failed to quicken pulses on both sides of the border.

Tribalism is an inherent part of football but the support of a team generally transcends an individual's politics. Anything that could have shown two fans from say The Falls and Shankhill Road something they had in common rather than what divided them couldn't have done any harm. Instead, the soccer split on the island has simply given some another platform to show off their prejudices.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

It's Grim Down South

Martin O'Neill's oft-repeated excuse of Ireland not having the players to compete in the passing stakes with superior opposition was laid bare last Thursday.

Once again, our team spent the evening chasing shadows while set up in a barely discernable formation. The difference is that this time our opponents didn't have a Gareth Bale or a Christian Eriksen in their ranks and in fact had a squad unquestionably weaker than that our manager can choose from. The problem is not with the players, it's with the management.  

From the off, it was clear that this was going to be a disappointing evening. A two-year news diet of Brexit and the proximity to the annual poppy fascism gauntlet that James McClean has to shamefully endure in England has seen a hardening of attitudes in the seven years since Northern Ireland last came to Dublin, let alone the three since the last game against England. Our choice to have an extra pint and skip the anthems was vindicated by the boos we could trace from both ends during the playing of Amhrán na bhFiann and God Save The Queen as we came through the turnstiles.

Add the 25th anniversary of the famous Windsor Park clash where Alan McLoughlin's goal saved Ireland's World Cup 94 qualifying campaign into the mix and the wisdom of arranging a friendly with our nearest neighbours has to be questioned.

I've watched us play the North at Lansdowne in 1989, 1993, 1995, 1999 and 2011. On none of those occasions have I witnessed the nasty edge and provo chants that were present last Thursday.  We mainly rose above it. While the abuse clearly wasn't at the level that we were subjected to in that qualifier a quarter of a century ago,  the fact that most of it came from lads that were probably still in nappies when that game was played and remember nothing of the troubles was depressing. 

Yet, what's been transpiring in the Ireland camp on and off the field is more depressing still. Every time the team has gone into camp in the last 12 months, there's been a feeling that we must have reached rock bottom. But every time, the management find new depths to plumb.

How low can we go?

After the Harry Arter and Declan Rice stories, Michael Obafemi's acceptance of a call-up should have been a good news story. Quite what Martin O'Neill was thinking in casting doubt on the Southampton youngster's commitment is beyond me. Yet, rather than talking to the player, that's precisely what he did in Monday's press conference, pointedly remarking that the player still qualifies for England and Nigeria and "has decisions to make for his future."

Well-placed sources close to the striker were reported in the media as denying this was the case on Tuesday but once again, instead of talking to the player, O'Neill doubled down on Wednesday stating that Obafemi wouldn't be travelling to Denmark for Monday's game as he wouldn't "be rushing him into making a decision" and that “I’ve spoken to (Michael)…but I think in terms of decisions for tying him down, I think that’s a bit of a distance off.”

There followed a bizarre and snidey exchange with Pundit Arena journalist Richard Barrett which I've copied here for context.

Transcript from FAI press conference, 14/11/2018

Richard Barrett: Having spoken to a source close to Michael Obafemi directly his intentions were clear that he wants to commit to Ireland. Has anything changed over the last number of days?

Martin O’ Neill: Sorry who have you spoken to?

RB: Someone very close to him.

MON: Is that right? You’re further on than me.

RB: Has anything changed?

MON: Who did you speak to?

RB: I can’t reveal that, but they said his intentions are very clear that he wants to play with Ireland.

MON: You can’t come in here and be half honest.

RB: Would it be a surprise to see him line out on Thursday?

MON: Thursday is alright, Thursday is okay and I’m hoping that he can be in and we can use six subs in a friendly game so hopefully he’d be in the squad anyway for that game so no that wouldn’t be a surprise, the next game is the one.

If he has total commitment he didn’t say that to me nor to be fair to me I didn’t press him on it because I haven’t had the opportunity to speak to his family but no, you’re ahead of the game you tell me.

RB: Are you confident?

MON: Confident on what?

RB: Confident that he will declare for Ireland?

MON: Am I confident? I’m always hopeful and I’ve always said that. I’m hopeful about Declan Rice too, hopeful you know? I can only be confident of something that I know I’m in control of or if that’s the case at least I know. I’m not in control of other people’s decisions, particularly issues like this which are very very important. I agree with you he has really enjoyed the training, he has enjoyed being brought in it seems.

As Glenn (Whelan) has mentioned he did very very well and has got a lot of encouragement, a lot of encouragement from the backroom staff but also importantly he’s got a lot of encouragement from senior players like Glenn and Seamus Coleman so that sort of feeling has got to be good and if that’s the case fine.

He might well have made his mind up even before coming over here, I’m curious as I said to you, you’re closer to him, I should bring you into the team.

On a serious note though, in regards the game on Monday, if he does declare do I go and do that then and if he suddenly goes and changes his mind then? I’m not sure on that but overall yes I’m hopeful, and I think you’re confident.

RB: Very confident

MON: Are you?

RB: Yes, I am.

MON: You should come and see me afterwards, join us for lunch.

With the manager casting doubt on Obafemi's intentions, the social media brains trust were quick to react leading to the young player getting significant and unwarranted abuse on the cesspit that is twitter in the build up. A clearly baffled Obafemi camp then released a statement on Thursday afternoon confirming the player's commitment and stating that "due to current speculation surrounding Michael Obafemi and as Michael's representatives, we would like to go on record to say that we are not in talks with either Nigeria or England, nor is it something we have ever pursued."

If that was the case, and it certainly backs up what Barrett's sources had said, then why was the manager undermining that and leaving the player exposed to the online abuse? O'Neill's disdain for social media is on the record but it's his job to manage situations like this. Rather than stage-managing what should have been a badly needed good news story, Thursday's developments made him look foolish in the extreme when a player who he said was a "distance off" making a decision made that decision within 24 hours. And in fact, denied that said decision was ever in doubt. A tweet from Obafemi shortly afterwards seemed to seal the deal.

Michael Obafemi confirms his allegiance 

Meanwhile, on pitch developments have been making O'Neill look foolish for a long time now. We lined up in what ostensibly seemed to be a 5-3-2 with Darragh Lenihan, Shane Duffy and John Egan taking the central defensive positions and Callum O’Dowda once again in an unfamiliar number 10 role. Robbie Brady made a long-awaited comeback after a year's absence and Glenn Whelan was back for a farewell bow.

The first ten minutes were passable with McClean's tap into an empty net after O'Dowda had been flagged offside the closest thing to real excitement. Needless to say, McClean's every touch was being booed by the North's fans which generated significant response from the Irish support with various profanities filling the night air.

But it wasn't long before any semblance of a shape started to desert us and we really should have been one down after 13 minutes. Our defence was nowhere to be seen as Gavin Whyte was played in with only Darren Randolph to beat. The Boro keeper spread himself really well to deflect the ball clear but really Whyte should have been given no chance.

Our only attacking outlet these days seems to be throwing Duffy up for a set-piece and hoping he gets a header on goal and that tactic nearly paid off ten minutes later with a great Brady delivery that was asking to be finished but this time Duffy mistimed his header, sending it into the ground and up high enough for Bailey Peacock-Farrell in the North's goal to tip over the bar.

A similar chance on 34 minutes that Duffy headed straight at the keeper was as much as Ireland created and the highlight of the half was the applause that Whelan got as he was subbed five minutes before the break. 

He's a player that had shipped a lot of unfair criticism during his career but the fact is that when he played, Ireland were generally a better team than when he didn't. Indeed, despite a couple of lax passes, he was still one of Ireland's better players on Thursday. Throughout his career, he did the job he was asked to, whether it was by Giovanni Trapattoni or Martin O'Neill.

Glenn Whelan's career highlight v Italy in happier times

The fact that both managers operate in a safety-first zone meant that Whelan took some unfair flak. But he is a good pro who will be missed and will always have that stunning Croke Park strike against Italy to look back on as one of the great Ireland goals.

The half petered out with the North taking control forcing Randolph to save again from Whyte and then from Stuart Dallas to ensure the half finished goalless.

Half-time saw the introduction of a young forward off the bench but after all the hoo-hah of the week, it wasn't Michael Obafemi making his debut but Portsmouth's Ronan Curtis, who has made a great impression at League One level after moving from Derry City in the summer. O'Dowda had been invisible in the 10 role and was the man to make way.

A Seamus Coleman run and shout for a non-existent penalty was as good as it got for Ireland before the usual plethora of substitutions kicked in around the hour mark.

McClean was withdrawn which dialled down the vitriol from the Northern Ireland fans and Callum Robinson also came ashore with Enda Stevens and Seanie Maguire coming on.

It made little difference to the direction the game was now flowing in. First, Michael Smith nearly took advantage of a goalmouth scramble only for Randolph to deny him. Then yet more calamitous defensive play, this time from Lenihan which gave Jordan Jones a very similar one-on-one as Whyte had in the first half. Much to everyone's relief, the outcome was the same when in real terms it had no right to be. 

Any resemblance to a recognisable shape had departed Ireland by now and with gaps appearing all over the pitch, we were succeeding in making Michael O'Neill's men look like tiki-taka experts with their best move just falling at the last hurdle before Steven Davies could get a shot off. 

Seanie Maguire's rotten luck with injuries continued as his night was cut short 13 minutes after it started with Scott Hogan coming on as Obafemi was ignored again although the injury opened up a seat on the plane to Denmark for him. Cyrus Christie followed Hogan off the bench to take up some sort of midfield position and he managed to force a corner which came to nothing as the game fizzled out for a scoreless draw. Unsurprisingly, Randolph was announced as man of the match. Without him, there's no doubt this would have ended up another defeat.

The difference in the approach of the two Ireland's and the two O'Neill's was summed up in the post-match interviews. Northern Ireland's Gavin Whyte spoke about his team's organisation and how the manager has every role drilled into them, even if they're coming off the bench. Meanwhile, Ronan Curtis revealed that no one had spoken about what was required of him until he was told to get ready at half-time.

These are two ordinary sides with average players. Both lost a World Cup play-off and will finish bottom of their Nations League group. Yet one looked organised and simply lacked a cutting edge throughout their campaign and again on Thursday. The other looks rudderless, shapeless and not only lacks a cutting edge up front but is also very shaky at the back. One camp seems happy and content while the other is beset with leaks, misunderstandings at best and arguments at worst.

 One manager is getting paid roughly €600k while the other is getting three times that with his assistant taking home a higher salary than the Northern Ireland boss. And for what?

Bar a late victory against a second-string USA side during the summer, Ireland are now winless in 10 games. The two goals scored that night remain the only goals scored at home since Shane Duffy put us ahead before our Danish capitulation a year ago. In our last 17 games, we've won 3, drawn 6 and lost 8. In terms of tactics and on field organisation and execution of a gameplan,  the football is far worse than I watch inferior players produce week in, week out at Bohs.

There's no indication that this will change despite O'Neill's bullish insistence that he will qualify us for Euro 2020 because, in his own words, he's "good". At this stage, he's just about the only one left that thinks so.