He’s running out of straws for which to grasp, and running out of time to make things right.
Brian Kerr’s tenure as Irish manager is on the verge of ending with a whimper, the natural conclusion to a series of disappointing qualifying results. Points dropped in two games against Israel and an essentially moribund defeat at home to France has left Ireland relying on other results as well as taking maximum points in Cyprus and at home to bogeyteam, Switzerland.
Last night’s reverse was more disappointing for the fact that Ireland never really got going. Roy Keane was a giant among Lilliputians like Kevin Kilbane and Robbie Keane. The latter’s head looked to be a million miles from Lansdowne – his direct pass to Zidane when under no pressure, a microcosm of his own personal bad day at the office.
If it was lack of first-team football that disabled Keane, it was a disability shared by strike-partner Clinton Morrison and his substitute Gary Doherty. Ireland’s lack of meaningful attempts on goal in the second half was evidence of a strikeforce a step off the pace.
While Andy Reid showed intelligence and endeavour in midfield, Damien Duff stumbled through most of the game, often surrounded by French shirts and unable, save for one smart glide past Sagnol, to make space for himself and cause trouble for his opponents .
Behind him, John O’Shea flew again on half-mast, seeming to take an age in football terms to make a decision on what to do with a ball in his possession. Steve Carr’s flagging status as a Premiership football again reared its head, Vikash Dhorasoo skinning the right-back, leaving him with no option other than to tug him back. There was a time when Carr could match any winger for pace, if not ability.
The centre-back pairing of Dunne and Cunningham escaped almost unscathed, although fingers may very well wag at the time and space given to Thierry Henry to conjure up the eventual winner, sublime a finish as it was. Cunningham, possibly in his last campaign, defied his ageing body, putting in a tour-de-force display of positioning and fortitude. Shay Given’s early wonder save aside, he had little to do – the most arduous moment for him after that was the desperate dive that failed to palm Henry’s winner away.
Back to Kerr
So it is to Kerr that the gaze returns. Afterwards he said that the “the team gave as good as they could” – and you may not argue with that. He also reasoned that “it was a very committed and organised performance but it wasn’t quite good enough”. It was both of those things. He offered that “we didn’t deserve to get beaten”. Yes, there was little to seperate the sides (Ireland had eight attempts on goal to France’s five).
But despite the stats and the obvious committment on show, Ireland seemed to lack the spirit that we’ve come accostomed to. Whether it was the long-ball ping-pong under Jack Charlton or the gutsy determination under Mick McCarthy, Irish teams never bowed out without a spirited fight. Last night they looked beaten once the French went ahead.
And my mind returns effortlessly to the last time that happened – a 2-0 defeat in Basle that knocked Ireland out of Euro 2004. History may well repeat itself next month unless Kerr can rally the troops.
Can it be? Can the Scottish Premier League be going the way of someone other than the big two in Glasgow? After six games, George Burley’s Hearts have a 100% record and a five point lead over Gordon Strachan’s less than convincing Celtic, surprise package Kilmarnock and Edinburgh rivals, Hibernian. They have scored 19 goals in 6 games, conceeding just 4.
The big test will come in two weeks time when they meet Rangers on the 24th September. My money is on them overcoming Alex McLeish’s lackluster-looking side, who sit fifth, 10 points behind the leaders. Their 1-1 draw at relegation favourites Falkirk this weeked was a further example of how they are flattering to deceive despite the presence of talents like Nacho Novo, Dado Prso and Barry Ferguson.
After meeting Falkirk the following week themselves, Hearts could go in to a top of the table clash against Celtic at Parkhead with eight wins from eight.
But can Hearts hold on? All neutrals (except perhaps Hibs fans) will be hoping they can but invariably Rangers and Celtic will chip away at their lead as their more battled-hardened and experienced stars capitalise on any slip up from the leaders. After games against the Glasgow two we’ll be better able to judge how far that Hearts have come. But one thing is for sure, the wake up call has been uttered and Scottish football’s giants are looking more gentle than they’ve been for decades.
Is Scotland now more competitive than England?