Anyone else out there been intoxicated by football recently? I had the giddy fits watching Portugal v Ireland. Pride running through my veins like wine. Ireland’s play is now something of a tightrope act, tactically short, passing the ball out from the back. Teasing the opposition out of formation, using the ball as bait. Would you like the ball? It’s right here.
Ireland’s shaky reputation and band of teenage additions adding to the opposition’s hunger. Come one, sure, take the ball, if you really want it. It’s not good for the heart, but by jeepers does it make good telly.
Steven Kenny covers teenagers in lamb’s blood, then sends them into the lion’s den. When he sent Gavin Bazuna into the cave, an early penalty save made it look like he came out wearing king-of-the-lions Ronaldo as a head-dress, only for Ronaldo to spring to life and show why he’s king of the jungle, with two late goals. Hearts were broken, but swollen with what seemed possible.
Then young Andrew Omobamidele had some sort of fit on the pitch against Serbia, a bit like the hulk changing form, or when Slaine had one of his warp spasms. He turned into something resembling Paul McGrath when he played Maradona off the park in the 1987 Rest of World vs Football league game. It was a thing of beauty, with more to come.
We also saw the potential of Adam Idah over the three matches. Strength, close control, confidence. An able internationalist, who just needs the players around him to reach his level and provide good service. This is the other part of Steven Kenny’s strategy; when the opposition do take the bait, move the ball forward with pace and accuracy. This has not yielded results as of yet, but when it does, it will be the high octane counterpart which makes the tightrope act all the more impressive.
So we have the 3 new young international standard players mentioned above, you can also add the injured Jason Knight and Dara O’Shea, both have been sent over the coals by Steven Kenny this year and performed admirably. So, 5 new international standard players with an average age of 20 this year. Bearing in mind that the most valuable young new player (Nathan Collins, bought by Burnley for EUR12M) has not made the pitch through injury, you’d have to say it has been an excellent year.
To appreciate how good the year has been, you would have to look past the results. If you can, you would see that repeating this production for another two years (and it seems the stocks are there in Irish underage players) would yield 15 international players who have proven themselves to be of the requisite standard, average age, 22. You’d have to agree, that if we had started this World cup qualifying with such a luxury, we could have different ambitions entirely.
I know it’s not as simple as that, but it’s the heart of what is required. We’ll never have the money to create facilities like they do in the UK, or have the influence to turn heads the way double agent Rice got turned. But I do believe Ireland, at it’s heart has something special to say. Ireland is a little bit special, the way freckles on your arm are a bit special, or the way the colour on the rocks in Connemara are a little bit special. Sport is an honest way to explain it to the world.
An experienced team is a requirement of giving a good account of yourself, showing the world what you’ve got.
What if we entered the qualification for the 2030 World cup with a squad of players, average age 26, with 5 years of international football under their belt?
Ireland for the World cup 2030, that’s all I’m sain’.
Luke Brennan is an Ireland born, Portugal-based writer and entrepreneur.