There’s a severe lack of enthusiasm in the air regarding the Republic of Ireland’s upcoming international fixtures. It’s curious, and, despite claims from GAA folk, football is absolutely the sport of choice in this country, regardless of how much funding we put into rugby as a nation.
Why the indifference? Perhaps it’s the confusion over the flimsy nature and messy permutations associated with the UEFA Nations League. Or perhaps it’s something more concerning.
Look, we’re not going back to the mid-2000s for that aimless capping process that saw us lower ourselves to handing players like Joe Lapira appearances in the green jersey, but there was a sense of acceptance about our limitations and turnover in talent at that moment in time.
Right now, we’re coming off the back of a campaign that saw us only a play-off away from getting a World Cup.
So why the doom and gloom? The mood is borderline insidious at the moment and the squad makeup doesn’t do much to inspire confidence. Let’s take a quick glance at those called up for the Wales game.
Darren Randolph is Ireland’s number one and has been a consistently reliable presence in his time as first-choice keeper when required, but, while second and third-choice stoppers can’t be read as a definitive barometer of your squad’s quality, Colin Doyle is at Hearts and Sean McDermott plays for Kristiansund.
There are glimpses of quality in the ten defenders we’ve got on hand. Seven of them play in the Premier League. Now, Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty play in the same position, and it’s doubtful whether they have the flexibility to take up another role in O’Neill’s starting 11, while Cyrus Christie, signed this summer by Fulham, is another right-back available if the other two aren’t.
Shane Duffy’s still basking in the glow of his goal against Manchester United and is in cracking form under a manager whose mother lived in Limerick for her sins. Left-back probably isn’t something we should ever stall too long when it comes to Ireland. We haven’t had a decent left full in a generation and unless the now-injured Robbie Brady’s technical ability is sacrificed to shore up that spot, the problem will remain.
In midfield and up top is where panic really sets in. The remainder of the squad – 13 players – consists of one Premier League player. Jeff Hendrick exists, and more power to him for that.
But his supporting cast leave a lot to be desired. There probably isn’t a more in-form player in the squad than Alan Browne, but he’s yet to prove he can play at international level.
James McClean is off for arm surgery, presumably from carrying the side for the last two years.
Callum O’Dowda, while a technically-sound footballer, isn’t a household name outside of Bristol – nor should he be. In fact, none of them are. Daryl Horgan is a League of Ireland darling who the majority of the hardcore will adore for that, but he’s a level below the required on this stage.
The same goes for Graham Burke and Callum Robinson. At least Jon Walters looks set to play until he’s 50. We might need him to.
O’Neill’s headache got even worse this week when it was revealed he couldn’t call on the services of Harry Arter, who, presumably, is too busy helping to plan the Tories’ next election campaign. We all know the Declan Rice situation at this stage and, truth be told, there’s not a whole lot to come back into this setup.
If nothing else, the lack of ability in this current squad may be the wake-up call the country needs when it comes to over-dependence on granny rules and faux national pride. We’re simply not set up well enough as a footballing nation and until that’s addressed and backroom staff members stop falling out with the talent, we’re going nowhere.
This may be the worst Republic of Ireland squad that we’ve had heading into a competitive campaign in 30 years.