Time to move beyond age of reactionary anger when assessing Ireland

The words of Graeme Souness ring true: “It’s the players. You’re either a f****** player or you’re not. You’re a big player or you’re not a big player.”

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny.
Ireland manager Stephen Kenny.
Image: Tom Maher/INPHO

THE COMPLETE DISDAIN could only lead to introspection of our own demands.

The fallout within some quarters of the Scottish media to their 3-0 humbling by Ireland last Saturday was viewed in the same catastrophic vein as being Luxembourged in the early stages of Stephen Kenny’s reign.

“Ireland are spectacularly limited… this was a disgrace,” read one headline the morning after the defeat.

The invective was at its most acerbic in the immediate aftermath of Ireland’s first home win in three years.

“A disgrace, an absolute disgrace of a performance. The kind of cowardly, disjointed shambles that lands many managers the sack,” the analysis began, below the aforementioned headline.

“What a disaster it was. Against an Ireland team best described as a ‘Who’s That?’ of international football.

“Troy Parrott, of MK Dons fame, being allowed to run off Tony Ralston and behind Jack Hendry for a second [goal].”


troy-parrott-scores-his-sides-second-goal Troy Parrott scores against Scotland. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

This is where it was hard not to hold a mirror up to our own expectations of what Ireland should be capable of on a consistent basis.

After Googling that Scottish duo in question, is it really so shocking that Ralston, a 23-year-old with one full campaign behind him in Celtic’s first team and Hendry, a 27-year-old who has played 153 games in eight seasons (according to, might be the types to switch off and get caught out by an attacker on a different wavelength?

Parrott’s run was sharp and had purpose, Michael Obafemi’s vision and execution of the pass was precise. The finish from the youngster, whom Tottenham Hotspur have sent on loan over the last couple of seasons to help speed up his progress of coming to terms with a first-team environment, was exquisitely deft.

But the reaction from Scotland was one of rage, a tired and stale kind of polemic.




Well, yeah, this is Scotland we’re talking about. It’s the currency they, like so many of us, will have to deal in from time to time.

It’s the same kind of rhetoric and reactionary bile that can sometimes flow here.

But what does it mean, really? What is its purpose?

Pointing out valid criticisms of a manager for the decision they make, the things they say, or how a team performs is not in doubt.

But it’s the anger attached that is hard to truly buy.

It’s why, when those sporadic moments of joy burst through the grey prism by which so many view international football, they should be cherished and celebrated.

Nathan Collins provided another moment for Ireland last night with a goal that is beyond compare for someone in a green jersey – or most in his position.

His overall performance, too, was outstanding, the kind which will help continue set firm foundations that will, hopefully, lead to a distinguished career at the very top level.

nathan-collins-scores-the-first-goal Collins connects with the outside of his right foot to score against Ukraine. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

But for now he is a developing centre back who turned 21 in April, and he will likely return to Burnley in the Championship for discussions with new manager Vincent Kompany before his immediate future is resolved.

Like so many others within this Ireland squad, they are on the precipice of the future with so many unknowns to come.

The key for Kenny will be to somehow make the final two games of this window the consistent standard in terms of performance and resolve. And results.

Defeats to Armenia in Yerevan and Ukraine in Dublin fell into the apparent category of shame and disgust.

The win over Scotland and draw with Ukraine in Lodz last night provided joy and hope.

Gavin Cooney
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That’s the kind of divergence in sensibilities we have endured over these last 10 days.

A microcosm of the Kenny era as a whole, and so much of what came before.

There is something which Graeme Souness said while on a promotion visit to Dublin on behalf of Virgin Sport in January 2020 that sticks in the head.

For context, he was speaking about Manchester United’s inconsistencies, but its reference seems pertinent to help understand why things are capable of see-sawing from the sublime to the ridiculous.

“It’s the players. You’re either a fucking player or you’re not a player. You’re a big player or you’re not a big player.

What you get, I could go and watch, you could go and watch, Rochdale or Barnsley play. You’d say ‘bloody hell, that kid could play in the Premier League for one of the big teams’. But he only has three, four, five games a season like that.

“He might only play like that five times, but the big players at Liverpool and at City are bang at it and perform, giving it an 8 out of 10 every week, and that’s what makes you a big player. That’s why the guy is playing at Barnsley or Rochdale.”

As ever with Souness, his analysis was razor sharp.

And that’s still the overwhelming sense that is required to understand where this Ireland team finds itself.

At the moment, it feels like one that will now be capable of delivering enthralling performances with individual moments of brilliance to savour.

But there remains that inevitability of dark and dour setbacks that will offer a reminder of Ireland’s place in the food chain.

There is no shame in that.

The key, as ever, is to limit the impact such setbacks have by being capable of delivering consistency.

If only finding such balance was so easy.

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