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5 talking points as Ireland suffer a familiar type of frustration

Meanwhile, Jack Byrne ended a 35-year wait for a League of Ireland player to be capped in a competitive fixture for the Boys in Green.

Ireland's James McClean dejected after the game.
Ireland's James McClean dejected after the game.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

1. Deja vu

AHEAD OF THIS GAME, Wales were nine competitive matches unbeaten and had picked up six consecutive clean sheets.

Meanwhile, Ireland under Stephen Kenny had gone six games without a win and five matches without a goal.

These statistics clearly suggested getting a victory or even finding the net in Cardiff would prove difficult for the visitors, and so it proved.

There were a number of striking similarities to the last time the sides met in Dublin.

As was the case last month, Ireland were missing a number of players, yet managed to play reasonably well and create some chances, while still coming away frustrated from a tight game in which there was little between the sides.

Kenny is entitled to feel unlucky, given the absences to key players as well as the fact that the England match aside, the performances have not been as bad as the team’s woeful run suggests.

Yet that does not mean the Irish boss should be free of concern.

Too often, there was a lack of intensity, composure and urgency to their forward play, and there was never a point in the game where they dominated to the extent that a goal felt likely.

Changing the style and the culture of the team was always going to be a long, painstaking process.

What Kenny is trying to do can be compared to the situation Northern Ireland found themselves in when Michael O’Neill took over in December 2011.

The North won just one of their first 18 matches with O’Neill in charge, including suffering a 6-0 defeat to Holland in the manager’s second game.

However, the former Shamrock Rovers boss ultimately enjoyed great success in the role, helping the country to qualify for the Euros, in addition to narrowly missing on reaching the 2018 World Cup via the play-offs. Not since the 1980s had the North enjoyed comparable levels of success.

Of course, there is no guarantee that Kenny will emulate his fellow League of Ireland graduate, but O’Neill’s trajectory certainly highlights the value of giving managers time to implement bold new ideas at international level.

2. A 2020 to forget for Irish football

There’s no other way of putting it — 2020 has been a painful year for Irish football, and the last couple of weeks have really hammered home this fact.

The senior men’s team failed to qualify for the Euros and could yet be relegated from their Nations League group.

The women’s team appear highly unlikely to qualify from their group for the Euros, losing a game they really should have won against Ukraine.

And on Sunday, the U21 side’s hopes of qualification all but ended following a disappointing loss at home to Iceland.

And that’s without even going into the various governmental issues stemming from the legacy of the old FAI and the controversies relating to John Delaney that surfaced in 2019.

Not many people have had a good 2020, but all those involved with Irish football will welcome its culmination more than most.

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3. Jack Byrne ends the League of Ireland’s 35-year wait

jack-byrne-with-ethan-ampadu Jack Byrne was introduced in the 82nd minute for his competitive Ireland debut. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

There has been a clamour from a certain portion of Ireland fans to put Jack Byrne in the team and they got their wish against Wales on Sunday.

The Shamrock Rovers star’s introduction in the 82nd minute meant he became the first League of Ireland player to represent the Boys in Green in a competitive fixture since Pat Byrne in 1985 during the Eoin Hand era.

Kenny might have wished to introduce Byrne sooner, but the former Man City youngster was forced to withdraw from the squad last time out after testing positive for Covid-19.

The fact that the 24-year-old attacking midfielder created two chances in the short time he had on the pitch suggested he might be worth using in a more substantial role in future.

Nevertheless, Byrne will also be frustrated at one bad moment in the dying seconds, as his stray pass led to Jeff Hendrick having to make the challenge that resulted in the Newcastle star’s sending off.

Yet at that stage, Ireland were throwing caution to the wind and were always prone to getting caught on the counter-attack.

Giving the Dubliner more game time may be one way to enhance Ireland’s goal threat and end a dreadful year on a high when they meet Bulgaria in Dublin on Wednesday.

4. Ireland set for de facto relegation play-off as Pot 3 now looks inevitable

There are two significant ramifications from Ireland’s loss to Wales.

One is that they now must not lose against Bulgaria on Wednesday to avoid relegation to the third tier of Nations League football, in a game where they will be missing Jeff Hendrick and Jayson Molumby, after the midfield duo picked up suspensions today.

And the other is that they now appear destined for Pot 3 in the World Cup qualifying draw — a predicament explained in greater detail here — as it looked like they needed two Nations League wins from two during this window to secure a spot in Pot 2 and a subsequent easier pathway to Qatar 2022.

Yet at the moment, it feels as if all those issues are secondary to the fact that Kenny’s men need a win simply to boost confidence and consolidate the belief that the team is making a degree of progress under the former Dundalk manager’s watch.

5. Patience needed with Ireland’s raw youngsters

For the first time in a long period, the Irish senior team has a distinctly youthful look.

For much of the past decade and even extending beyond that, there has been a deeply conservative mindset when it comes to player selection, and so individuals have invariably had to wait until they are in their mid-to-late 20s before earning a first cap.

And while it is partially due to injuries, one of the positives from the past week is the number of youngsters that have gained invaluable experience at international level.

Dara O’Shea and Jayson Molumby are just 21, while Adam Idah and Jason Knight are 19. And this quartet of players were each given a chance to impress on Sunday evening, as three of them were last week at Wembley.

All the individuals in question remain raw and will inevitably make mistakes — as they did last night on occasion — but provided they maintain their current rate of progress, they have bright futures in front of them and are capable of inspiring better days to come for Irish football.

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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