Tag Archives: Football

Heil no.

Irish football’s darkest hour colourised by Rob Cross.

Rob writes:

Ireland gives the Nazi salute in Weser Stadium, Bremen in 1939 in solidarity with the Germans. Former interned Republican and Irish captain on that day, Jimmy Dunne, is said to have shouted down the line: “Remember Aughrim, Remember 1916!”

Jimmy Dunne?

From top: Adam Idah (top left) and Adam O’Reilly as young Republic of Ireland teammates; Adam and Adam, as senior football rivals today; Luke Brennan

What are the chances?

This time last year, I wrote about two players, both called Adam, both from Cork, who ended up playing against each other in the English FA youth Cup.

That day, Adam O’ Reilly had won out, the flinty midfielder captaining a strong Preston North End U18 side.

He scored one of three goals that beat an U18 Norwich side starring Adam Idah, their star striker, who had scored two hat-tricks in the competition the previous year, this year, came up short.

On Saturday, a year older and wiser, they faced off again. This year the stage was so much bigger: they had both made the jump up to the senior squads of their respective clubs, this time they met in the senior FA Cup, the real FA Cup.

O’Reilly had a more difficult year, injury pulling him in and out of the first team, he had only made it to the bench.

As young footballing bodies try to progress this final stage in their development, injuries are common. Players appear and disappear in a panicked sea, as they clamour towards their hopes and dreams.

Those that get left behind are never heard from again, swimming in the hope and dreams of your friends and family, amidst all the backslapping, a man could drown in his own expectations. Nobody wants to fall foul of their own ordinariness.

The only way out of this cold sea is to announce yourself in such a way that cannot be forgotten. Write your name in letters big and bold. MY NAME IS ADAM. So that the manager knows your name, and the players know your name, and the dogs in the street know your name. The fans need to know your name and call it out, you need to be unforgettable. ADAM. ADAM. ADAM. The press should be asking, about, well, WHAT ABOUT ADAM?

Adah Idah is not an ordinary player. After his performance on Saturday, well, everyone at the club knows his name. He got his first senior team start and he grabbed it with both hands.

Within 90 seconds he was on the scoresheet, breaking at pace from midfield before calmly slotting the ball into the far corner.

By half time he got a second, taking advantage of some poor goalkeeping, he drove the ball into an empty net, but from 40 yards, on his weaker left foot.

He completed his hat-trick in the second half winning his own penalty, before converting it with his usual delicate ease. The youngest FA cup hat-trick scorer since Ian Lawson in 1957.

Adam Idah has soft feet, he scores with delicate ease, he strokes the ball into the net; he manages this while inhabiting a frame not unlike that of Zlatan Ibrahimović. In this, the universe seems to be playing some deeply ironic cosmic joke on us, as Adam Idah could not be more unlike Zlatan in every other way.

Adam Idah is humble, considered, courteous, affable and thoughtful. If you had a daughter, you’d love if she brought Adam Idah home, you’d think “That’s a relief”.

Adam Idah is cool, in the only way someone can actually be cool; he is cool because he couldn’t care less about being cool (most likely because he is too busy thinking about how he can score more goals).

Of course Adam Idah is most cool because he is from Cork. And for some reason, Cork seems to produce a large number of hyper-cool people. They are mystery to me, Cork people.

They produced Roy Keane, who I could never understand until St.Patrick appeared to me in a vision explaining to me that, like the shamrock, Roy was three things, 1) My favourite footballer of all time 2) Someone who I deeply admired as a human being 3) A bit of a langer. – Like the shamrock, he was one thing, but also, all three things.

As for Adam O’Reilly. I’m guessing his day in tall letters isn’t so far away. He first hit the headlines in 2014 as a 13 year old, who, when his Ringmahon Rangers team were 1-0 up to Corinthian Boys (Adam Idah’s team, a co-incidence, or is it?) and had been awarded a penalty.

He adjudged the award to be unfair to the other team (a player had picked up the ball to allow attention to an injured player). O’Reilly stepped up and rolled the ball into the goalkeeper’s hands. The first penalty miss of his fledgling career.

Good karma awaits those who know how to do the right thing. It’s great that we are producing such fantastic footballers, but isn’t it phenomenal that they are such wonderful human beings too?

In the last year since I first proposed that Ireland might win the 2030 World Cup, things have been moving along nicely. Adam Idah isn’t the only one hitting the headlines.

We’ve also had man of the match performances from Aaron Connolly with 2 goals against Spur in the premiership. Jason Knight got two for Derby in the Championship, Wayne Rooney says he reminds him of a younger version of himself.

Nathan Collins was Stoke’s youngest ever captain in August: when he was awarded the winning goal, he amended the record to say it was his team- mate. Troy Parrot has made his Premiership debut.

Micheal Obafemi has been getting on the pitch for Southampton in the premiership, he scored against Chelsea, the goal was top-drawer, the turn to take it was better, but the Irish jig to celebrate it suggests he needs more time in Dublin based training camps.

All the above players are not only Irish Under 21 Internationals, but also qualify as Under 19s. Add in Will Smallbone who scored in Southampton’s senior FA Cup match. Gavin Kilkenny, who is making the grade at Bournemouth, on the senior bench on Sunday, but a goal scoring man of the match winner in a summer game with Lyon.

The outstanding Conor Coventry has just signed a long term contract at West Ham. At Celtic you have a trio of players at (Barry Coffee, Jonathan Afolabi, and Luca Connell ) all itching to make an impact at club level.

As well as all these wonderful club performances, they have been ripping up trees for the Ireland Under 21s. Looking like contenders to qualify for U21 Euros for the first time. However, this is just a test run, for the next U21 campaign (it runs on a two year cycle), we’ll lose no more than 3 or 4 players, leading us to the U21 2023 Euro Championship at full strength.

Leading us nicely into the 2024 Olympic qualification, which should be a nice dry run for the World cup final 6 years later.

#COYBIG

Luke Brennan is an Ireland born, Portugal-based writer, entrepreneur and sports fan.

PS: If you’d like more frequent updates on the progress of the young Irish footballers, I can suggest no better source than @KennysKids on twitter. Run by UCD student Kevin Higgins, he provides such thorough and up to date reporting that I wonder if he will make through college at all. Or perhaps he’ll be the real winner from the 2030 World cup as he passes 1 million followers and retires with his laptop to the Caribbean.

 Previously: Why I Think We Could Win The World Cup In 2030

Daniel Lambert writes:

The gulf in funding between football and GAA is astonishing given more people play football.

The parochial organisational structure of the GAA makes it a far more potent force in leveraging politicians at all levels as opposed to the fragmented football structures.

Hon Mayo!

FIGHT!

From top: Ireland Under-19s during their 5-0 win over Romania in  the UEFA European Under-19 Championship Elite Round in March; Luke Brennan

How healthy is Irish underage soccer?

Answer: A little bit too healthy.

Before heading off to a respectable semi-final exit in the Toulon tournament, the Irish under-21 team beat the senior team 2-1. The funny thing about that, is that most of the talent on the under- 21 team comes from the under-19 team.

If they were able to keep their own players, the under-19 team would most likely beat the under-21 team.

For this reason, the Irish under-19 team head off to compete in the European finals in Armenia this month as victims of their own success.

Eight of their top players have been held back from competing by their UK clubs.

Nathan Collins (who was rumoured to be the subject of a £7M move to Man Utd. earlier this summer) has been held back with a guarantee of more first team football with Stoke City, in order to develop him as a player (or more likely to fatten him up with first team action to attract more offers).

Luca Connell has made his big move to Celtic, first team action is not guaranteed, but it is most likely that potential Champions league qualifier action will hold him back from the trip to Armenia.

Conor Coventry has been held back by West Ham, travelling with the first team to Switzerland to see if he is good enough to provide cover for Declan R**e – and he is.

Jason Knight, the box to box teenage sensation from Cabinteely is off to Florida with Championship side Derby for a pre-season tour with new manager and ex- Barcelona midfielder Phillip Cocu; an experience in itself.

Lee O’Connor is being held back at Manchester United, after his outstanding performance at the Toulon tournament, they may more greatly prize him as an asset.

Adam Idah has signed a professional deal with newly promoted premiership team Norwich, with the guarantee of first team training and the hope that appearances will follow.

Similar assurances were given Aaron Connolly at Brighton, who is the other multi-award winning goal-scorer which Ireland now have representing them in the Premiership.

Troy Parrott occupies his own stratosphere. Should he justify the hype, and there is nothing to suggest he can’t, he will be a once in a generation player that will repay the faith that Mauricio Pochettino intends showing him.

Indications are that he will be named in their summer squad for a trip to Singapore. A chance to prove that he is deserving of a first team place at 17 years of age.

Now that is a lot of quality to be missing out on, surely they can’t compete without eight of their starters?

Well, all but Luca Connell and Jason Knight were unavailable in the qualification process. It didn’t stop the U-19s beating Romania 5-0, Azerbaijan 3-1 and Russia 2-0.

They have quality and confidence in depth.

Adam O’Reilly looks every bit the flinty ambitious midfielder from Cork with an eye for goal that we’ve been missing these last few years.

Ryan Cassidy looks like the player that Robbie Keane wanted to be. Good enough for Liverpool, if he ever makes his dream move to there from Watford.

Where is all this quality coming from? Everywhere.

We may even have to re- assesses the Ross O Carroll Kelly stereotype; the under-19 right back Andy Lyons went to Blackrock College.

When I heard Greystones-born Simon Power interviewed after the under-21 game, he sounded like he just scored a try for Clongowes.

We also have the Reghbas, the Eboseles, the Afolabis, the Omobamideles. All welcome and a great addition. I’m great believer in the theory that the more you represent, the more you can be. The many faces of a new Ireland, with a new team to prove it.

A football team should represent changes in a society, all changes.

I hope it’s true, I hope the change is coming from all corners. I hope also that part of the change is that Irish people are beginning to realise that the best way to support the national team is to support their local team.

Attendances are up 15% at League of Ireland matches this year. No reason why that can’t happen every year.

It’s part of the reason why, when UCD’s highly rated teenage winger Neil Farrugia was offered a move to Man City, he choose to move to Shamrock Rovers instead.

Farrugia earned 600 points in his leaving certificate and is a gifted Biomedical Science student; he has options. The idea of turning out for a team that had an attendance of 6,414 in a recent derby game with Bohemians is also something which wasn’t always on offer in Ireland.

I think Irish football has a lot to gain from the rising affluence in Irish society. Along with increasing the genetic diversity, it means that there is a few quid to pay for a physio, have the video analysis gear, or think a bit more about diet.

When I was young, sports teams were managed by whoever’s dad had a car and could drive to matches. That wasn’t so long ago. Now we are an affluent nation, with cars, a few quid, well organised leagues and people with a few spare hours to volunteer and run them. These things make a difference.

I think every type of diversity is useful, even our sporting diversity. It may well be why Ireland punches above our weight in sport. Consider that Soccer competes with Gaelic football, Hurling, Rugby and the rest for it’s playing pool.

No other European country has such diverse sporting interest and there is a growing acceptance that a range of sports may be better for development than a relentless Tiger Woods style focus on one sport. Perhaps diversity is the reason for success, rather than a hindrance to it.

Go diversity, Go Ireland.

Luke Brennan is an Ireland born, Portugal-based writer, entrepreneur and sports fan.

Uefa Under-19 Championships

Previously: Green Shoots (Or: Why I Think We Might Win The 2030 World Cup)

From top: Troy Parrott (second left), celebrates with, from left, Jason Knight, Cameron Ledwidge and Barry Coffey during the UEFA U17 Championship Finals group between Bosnia & Herzegovina and Republic of Ireland in Burton-upon-Trent, England last May; Luke Brennan

When I first saw Robbie Keane play football, I thought “I know a Robbie Keane when I see one, and that Robbie Keane, is a Robbie Keane”. The question on every football fan’s lips these days, is “Where will we find the next Robbie Keane?”.

The FAI now have one of the most useful tools available in unearthing another Robbie Keane. They have, Robbie Keane. The thinking is that it takes a Robbie Keane to catch a Robbie Keane.

As they revealed Keane to the press, they had only one question, but dared not ask it: as Robbie leant down to sign on the dotted line, winking at the cameras, humming “There’s only one Robbie Keane” to himself.

“Will you be ringing Declan Rice, Robbie?”

I will in me swiss, thought Robbie, humming quietly to himself. “Yeah”, he said, “Meself and Mick will get the boy sorted”, wondering why anyone with half a million followers on Instagram would ring anyone.

You see, we don’t need another Robbie Keane, nor do we need Declan Rice.

It doesn’t matter if you are making sausages or running the Irish football team, the recipe for success is a steady supply of good raw material.

When you get that part right, you don’t end up relying on one player being your only goal-every-second-game striker for 20 years. We were lucky to have him, but we’re even luckier to have moved on.

I haven’t watched Premiership football in 20 years. I still won’t watch it. Everything from the prawn sandwiches to the wall-to-wall betting slogans winds me up, never mind the harm it does the Irish game.

I was living and working in the UK when I turned my back on it. I was placing in the top 5 of a company-wide fantasy football competition and had a “moment of clarity”, thinking I’d be better off spending my time working out what makes the factories of the world work than wasting any intellectual real estate on the Premiership.

I’m slightly disgusted with myself for even writing about it in passing; but it’s a necessary part of the good news that I bring.

Ireland are on the up.

They have been steadily improving their underage performance, the U17s were ranked 24th in Europe back in 2015, they’ve moved to 12th this year (Irish players Adam Idah and Aaron Connolly winning the golden boot for most qualification goals in the 2017 and 2018 competitions along the way).

At very least, we’ve got a golden generation.

There are half a dozen Irish teenagers making the bench in the Premiership this season, one even got a goal (Michael Obafemi scored the first premiership goal of the season by an Irish forward, in December). There are as many Irish teenagers in the English second division making it onto the pitch.

But that is nothing compared to what they are doing in the second string and underage
teams. In English underage football, the Irish are providing 5% of the players, but 12% of the goals.

They are learning their craft, captaining their teams, scoring winning goals with a relish that implies a new confidence. Heroism is an art; leadership a learnt skill. The Irish captains of the future are lining out for their club’s FA Youth cup teams in far greater numbers.

Last week Southampton’s youth team was captained by Kameron Ledwidge, formally of St.Kevin’s boys, Dublin. They were beaten 2-1 by Watford, captained by scorer of both goals, Ryan Cassidy, another St. Kevin’s alumni.

In another fourth-round tie, Preston beat Norwich, captained by Adam O’Reilly, defeating his former Cork schoolboy team-mate (and Norwich leading underage goal-scorer) Adam Idah.

There are other young captains, such as Stoke City’s Nathan Collins and Bolton’s Luca Connell. There is Troy Parrot at Tottenham. James Jennings, Ethan Varian, Will Ferry and Jason Knight all average a goal every other game for their Premier league youth teams. Parrot averages a goal a game.

I saw Ryan Nolan from Limerick captaining Inter Milan’s U19 team. I saw Ryan Johansson come on for 20 minutes as centre forward for Bayern Munich’s U19 team against Barcelona U19. He was the best player on the pitch.

All these players should put in a good performance at this year’s U19 championship. The 2020 U19 championship is being held just up the road in Northern Ireland, we can expect a good result in what is almost a local tournament.

Ireland’s U21 team will be building towards the 2021 finals in Slovenia. The hope is that the 2023 finals, when this golden-age of Irish football comes good, will be an all-Ireland hosted event.

A good result in that, would mean an Irish team would qualify for the 2024 Olympics. Plenty of opportunity to practice heroics, make mistake, learn, grow, yielding a mature and practiced squad.

We should also ask another question. What if that is the new normal? What if the wealth, prosperity, new genetic input and solid sports management is giving that result as a constant?

What if we’ve got the product pipeline right? What if there is another generation to follow?

Truth is we would need it.

Again, It doesn’t matter if you are making sausages or building an international football team; you need a product pipeline. Unlike sausage recipes, players wear out. You need to have been producing consistently over time to have a shot.

Did someone say we have a chance at a World cup? The future is bright, but the future is ten years away. Roll on World Cup 2030.

Luke Brennan is an Ireland born, Portugal-based writer, entrepreneur and sports fan.

Top Pic: Malcolm Couzens/Sportsfile

Meanwhile…

England play Colombia tonight for a place in the World Cup Quarter Final  at 7pm.

They’re It’s going coming home.

UPDATE:

We’ll never hear the end of this.