FAI need to look at football at all levels in Ireland

We were not entitled to it however despite off the record talking ourselves down, we expected at least one moment of glory. Defeat an apparently fractured Croatia, escape with an unlikely point against Spain, embarrass the Italians; engineered by one of their own.

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We knew qualification from Group C was going to be a big ask of us but the least we expected was a warm memory to soothe the pain of eventual elimination. But we retire home hurt, our pride discoloured.

Subjectively, Croatia’s opener was a little comical; Mario Mandzukic looked to be falling to his knees, when he managed to head into Shay Givens goal from a blind angle. Sean St. Ledger peals off a broken wall to equalise and breathing returns to normal, balance restored.

Looking nervous we try to get indoors for half time, but Nikica Jelavic scores from a position that looks offside but isn’t. Half time does come but it’s no good. We return to the pitch and concede to Mandzukic again. We know the rest.

We can’t live with Spain. Not even close. We keep in touch with Italy but eventually a gap proceeds to a chasm and ultimately we say, yes, they never really looked that worried.

So what happened or more so what didn’t happen?

Shay Given wasn’t himself. He looked off the boil from the start. Not injured but not himself. Should he retire he shouldn’t be remembered for this poor tournament. But he shouldn’t retire.

Our full backs lacked bite and passing accuracy. St. Ledger and Richard Dunne faced an onslaught. They can’t be crucified. But they weren’t the rock we thought.

Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady looked sluggish at times but didn’t cease in their endeavours. But that wasn’t enough.

Glen Whelan was shackled, as was Keith Andrews, but maybe less so. Irelands best player, he tried to drive the team forward and often looked our best bet to score.

All of Ireland’s strikers got game time, the ones who got the least, appeared to be our best.

We talked ourselves up as hard to beat, rigid, applied, and determined. We never got a chance to implement our style. Momentum in football can’t be underestimated. When it’s never given a chance to generate there is no platform on which to build. In that sense we never got off the ground.

That we were a limited team was ok. We’ve been limited before and shown more. Were Matt Holland and Mark Kinsella a superior central midfield a decade ago –it’s debatable. Steve Staunton and Gary Breen better centre backs – that would be a close enough call. But we excelled in 2002. These last eight days we’ve repelled our own self-belief. We were crushed early and we never really recovered.

The high end that is the international team and its set up will look at the players coming through. For many the future is James McClean, Robbie Brady, Anthony Pilkington and James McCarthy. In two years {maybe before, but finances dictate not} maybe a new manager with a wider vision of the game.

But beyond that the FAI has to be honest enough to scratch beneath the surface. Open their eyes to the lack of support that saw the terrible loss of Monaghan United and possibly more League of Ireland clubs to come. We need a robust league and in that we need the youth teams and feeder clubs to be stronger.

But what is needed at minimum is an overview of the structure of the game in Ireland and the methodology. There needs to be a blue print, an ideology as to how we remodel how we play the game here.

Inevitably it would mean taking hits along the way.

That means that the FAI has to make some financial sacrifices, not at the higher end of the game but at the lower end.

To think it won’t happen would be defeatist. But it’s difficult to see where the vision will come from.

Ultimately, the end result needs to be that we can qualify regularly for tournaments. Even at our peak we missed out, remember our other Polish misadventure in 1991?

But we have to engineer a system that sees enough quality generated to create a way of playing that means we can live with the best.

We don’t need to lose our Richard Dunne’s. But we can’t disregard by height or build. Is a balanced pressing and passing game out of the question? We’ve done it intermittingly, there’s no reason we can’t stamp it on our psyche.

But for now we live with the disappointment of defeat, the Roy Keane sideshow, the brilliance of the fans in Poznan and Gdansk, the frustration of those at home who couldn’t enjoy the party, the hurt in the words and on the faces of Dunne and O’Shea and Andrews.

The poor footballing contribution we ultimately made to Euro 2012.


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