|Ten years is too long. (Pic: telegraph.co.uk)|
Enthusiasmus. Of the many collectible phrases that Trappatoni has coined in his stint as Ireland manager (“Richard Dunne is like wardrobe” anyone?), this one stands out.
Generally when watching Ireland under the veteran Italian it is hard to summon any enthusiasmus whatsoever, given the negative way in which they play.However two playoff places in two qualifying campaigns speak for themselves.
In Paris two years ago Ireland tore apart a French team full of stars with a performance that was unlike any other under Trappatoni. No longer were the Irish a team of Cinderellas, constantly running away from the ball. Irish supporters thought that the team had turned a corner, and looked towards the qualification campaign for Poland and Ukraine with, here it is again, enthusiasmus.
High minded notions of Barcelona-type football quickly fell by the roadside however, and the defeat at home to Russia seemed to send Trappatoni even further into his defensive shell. The team lumbered on, grinding out results and becoming increasingly difficult to break down. An eight game streak of clean sheets was only broken by Armenia last Tuesday.
And now to Estonia. Somewhat short on Tallinnt (oh the wit!), this team struggled to beat the Faroe Islands at home, and lost to the same team away. This needs to be reiterated. They lost to an island full of puffins. Ireland go into this game as overwhelming favourites and this is worrying.
Ask and you shall receive. With the Irish team it is more often than not the other way around. In Paris no one expected a result. Dunne and co came within a hand of reaching the World Cup. In 2002 Roy Keane’s departure was supposed to spell the end of Ireland’s meaningful participation. We only lost to Spain on penalties and managed a victorious draw with eventual finalists Germany.
Thus it is clear that Ireland do better when nothing is expected of them. They need to now be able to perform as favourites, and crush Estonia before they can get any modicum of self-belief flowing. Irish supporters should be able to start planning what believable illness will get them off work for four weeks next summer by the time the final whistle is blown at the first leg in Tallinn.
Ireland have had an unusual run of good fortune, most apparent last Tuesday with the Armenian defender playing the wrong direction and their goalkeeper deciding that all he ever wanted to be was a Gaelic Football centre-back. After Paris all that was discussed was our lack of luck. Its time to quit whinging, because luck has been on our side recently, and getting the “easiest” of draws for the play-offs confirms this.
A combination of luck, grit and some heroic performances have got us this far, none more heroic than Richard Dunne in Moscow. The hard work thus far must not be undone with an unthinkable defeat to Estonia.
It goes without saying that this nation needs a lift. The rugby team provided that for the past few weeks and now it is the turn of the footballers. It has been almost a decade since we last had a summer of enthusiasmus following the Irish team in a championship, its high time for another.