Saturday, April 20, 2024

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Euro 2028 - The Lack of the Irish

The EURO 2028 logo (via Wikipedia)

Now that football coming home has been rubber-stamped by UEFA, and the UK and Ireland will co-host Euro 2028, it would seem the FAI's immediate priority is getting its house in order beforehand given the uncertainty around the future direction of both the men's and women's teams of the Republic… 


Vera Pauw was dismissed amid controversy, following the conclusion of a début World Cup for the girls in green earlier this year. They returned home from Australia and New Zealand having finished bottom of Group C with a sole point from their three games, an opening 1-0 defeat to the co-hosts followed by another narrow reverse against Canada. 

Having led 1-0 through Katie McCabe's fourth minute strike, a Megan Connolly own goal in first half added time and Adriana Leon's goal soon after the restart snuffed out any hope of progression. Their goalless finale with Nigeria at least salvaged a little pride amidst the sort of atmosphere within the Irish set-up last seen in Japan and Korea amongst the men...

Indeed, Pauw went as far as to suggest that her employers actively undermined her both in the lead-up to and during the tournament itself, in an interview with RTE shortly after her dismissal on 29 August. The decision linked to bullying allegations from her time coaching Houston Dash and, in quite the parting shot following the apex of her four years in charge, she said:

“My position became very challenging when executives in the FAI, not technical football coaches, effectively took my seat and spoke to staff members and players regarding their roles in the team before and after the World Cup. My advice – coming from my knowledge and experience – was often disregarded and not respected. In my opinion, no head coach in the world would accept interference of the executives in technical football affairs. Unfortunately, trust broke down between me and certain people in the FAI.

I believe that the review process which the association has carried out was flawed and that the outcome was predetermined. Indeed, some discussions were held with players and staff before and during the World Cup which undermined my position and had an impact on our team-building process.”

And perhaps that was best demonstrated by a disagreement with captain McCabe over substitutions during that final game of the tournament, flatly dismissed with an assertion of her own authority in tactical matters!

“If Katie McCabe says that she wants a change, that doesn’t mean she’s the coach.”

If Mick McCarthy was paying attention, he might just have allowed himself something of a bitter laugh, having found himself dragged into a row with his own skipper in what became known as the Saipan Incident. An Irish Times interview with Roy Keane, then captaining the men's team, turning into a series of broad swipes at the FAI itself and the man then managing him, with regards to their preparations for a tournament Keane himself missed, having been sent home...

His gripe against their training facilities was undoubtedly the mildest part of his tirade-


“You wonder why players get injured? Well, playing on a surface like that... It's rock hard. One or two of the lads have picked up injuries... But you know, we're the Irish team, it's a laugh and a joke."

What followed, after McCarthy had accused him of faking injury in order to miss the second leg of a play-off against Iran to get them there in the first place (and probably fanning the flames in the process), created a divide so wide even then- Taoiseach Bertie Ahern couldn't bring about a reconciliation.

"I didn't rate you as a player, I don't rate you as a manager, and I don't rate you as a person."

Ouch. Though in an interesting postscript, an independent report was published, remaining unreleased for legal reasons, which actually agreed with many of the issues raised. Meaning those outside the corridors of power will most likely never know what if anything has been done to find solutions...

With Eileen Gleason now in interim charge of the ladies, next on the pre-Euros list to ponder over is what to do post- Stephen Kenny, with his contract ending at the conclusion of the men's Euro 2024 qualifying campaign and time surely running out to stake a claim for an extension as results continue to go against him and his charges. 

Their recent win over Gibraltar sparked fresh debate around his future, with a seat on the plane to Germany looking near impossible. A decent enough League of Ireland pedigree across spells with Longford, Bohemians, Derry City (twice either side of a stint at Dunfermline in Scotland) and Dundalk got him noticed enough to snaffle the national under 21s job before moving up to the seniors- not without criticism given his inconsistent at best record since. Post the 2-0 loss to Greece earlier this month, which ended any hopes of automatic qualification, 27 competitive games have yielded just five wins.

In light of which you can most likely understand the pressure he's said to be under, not helped by a dreaded vote of confidence from his FAI paymasters in its wake. Chief executive Jonathan Hill responded to understandable questions over whether the result could mean an exit stage left for Kenny by saying “No, I don’t think so. We’re committed to that process of reviewing the whole of the qualification process in November.”

But, given that he had made getting there a key part of his plans upon being given the job in the first place, it seems hardly surprising that speculation is rife as to who could replace him. Some playing devil's advocate in suggesting Keane could be tempted off the punditry sofa, his last job having been assistant to Martin O'Neill between 2013-18.

Following a decent enough job with England's under 21's, his former team-mate Lee Carsley might also be seen as a decent alternative to bring through a new crop of boys to pull on the famous green shirt. The likes of current Ghana boss and former Republic player Chris Hughton, Neil Lennon, Steve Bruce and Sam Allardyce are also said to be on the fringes as the Republic get ready to share the stage with England, Scotland, Wales and their Northern Irish neighbours.

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