By Ciaran O Raghallaigh | fallout
Giovanni Trapattoni always said it was about the “leettle details”.
But it’s the big ones we need to worry about now.
Something has gone seriously wrong this month as an Ireland high on confidence, self belief and expectation imploded.
The team that went 14 games unbeaten, conceding in just three of those games, have shrivelled up into creatures who’d die the moment a floodlight was turned on.
This all comes after a painful 4-0 defeat to Spain in Gdansk ended Ireland’s chances of progression from the group stages of Euro 2012.
This is the big time, the ‘pinnacle of every player’s career’ as Jason McAteer told us earlier this week.
But when the curtains came back and the spotlight hit their face; they didn’t just fluff their lines, they spat out gibberish that would have most audiences hurling tomatoes with venom.
Somehow, just somehow, the Irish fans here stood tall. Even at 4-0.
How? Well, unless it was barrels of alcohol that they’ve consumed this week, one has to wonder.
If we could bottle the enthusiasm of this support, then we could sell it to the pathetic Spanish support. The best team in the world, and only a few of you bother to doddle along?
To the game. I suppose we must.
Trapattoni says he hadn’t seen the tension his players showed in the games against Croatia and Spain during training, and attempted to pass the buck when it came to judging tonight’s misadventure.
“I didn’t see that tension,” he claimed. “But this is a clear symptom of a side who, when they go to a competition, either you feel inferior or you feel a bit concerned so you make basic errors.
“This happened with Croatia and it happened again this evening. This is something we have to look at. I have to ask the lads why this happened.
“I’ve got to think about the disappointment of the Irish people, who deserve a lot of respect. We’ve come here with confidence, with great enthusiasm. The fans cheered us even when we were behind. I will say this to the players. They mustn’t forget this [the fans],” said Trap.
Trap’s system failed once more, horribly so.
But, and it is worth giving him a bit of leeway here — what can any manager do when his player’s concede inside four minutes in each game, and then immediately after half time?
The number of self-inflicted wounds this Irish team have had to endure this week bear comparison with a particular brand of Japanese WWII pilots.
“I’ve always had a lot of faith, a lot of confidence in the quality of our side, not necessarily our creativity but our attitude, our application,” Trap said, looking around to see where it’s gone.
“This has always given us good results. I will ask the lads how on earth it’s possible that, in two games, after two minutes, we’ve gifted them a goal. Then we’ve given them another.
“The assuredness and determination has changed. Fear and tension has meant we’ve made mistakes we didn’t do it at all in the qualification campaign. I didn’t see this in training.
“On the contrary, I had a lot of faith in the players’ approach. Quite clearly, it wasn’t the case. These mistakes have shown we did show fear. I’m very said because the lads gave it their all.”
Trap argued that any tactical plan he had went ‘out the window’ after the concession of such an early goal.
But was the plan right? Was Simon Cox really the man for the role he was sent out to complete?
Why hit the ball long and high when neither forward would look out of place in a leprechaun suit?
You wouldn’t get in the ring with Nikolai Valuev and aim for his chin.
Italy are up next, and Trap needs to upset him homeland to appease his adopted one.
“My only concern is the Irish team,” he said. “It’s my duty, I’ve got to make sure that our squad finishes this game with our heads held high. If Italy need to go through to the quarter-finals, it needs to be down to the fact they’ve played well. It needs to be down to the quality in the pitch.”