Ireland assistant boss Roy Keane. PA Wire/Press Association Images

Whatever happened to Roy Keane's perfectionist philosophy?

James McClean has criticised the media for perceived unrealistic expectations of the Irish team.

THERE WAS A time, not so long ago, when Irish sports teams having low expectations was widely seen as a negative.

This attitude was supposedly associated with a losing mentality. In conjunction with the Celtic Tiger years, there seemed to be a new mentality. Irish people were growing more confident and this was reflected in the attitudes of the country’s athletes.

In rugby, the emergence of world-class players such as Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell led the national team into a sort of golden age for the sport, where going to places such as Twickenham was no longer seen as something to be feared.

In soccer, while success was less pervasive, one individual personified this new attitude — Roy Keane, who would ultimately go on to become arguably Ireland’s greatest footballer ever.

Keane’s greatest asset was his winning mentality. He criticised Irish teams for going to major tournaments and being satisfied with one notable victory, such as the 1994 defeat over Italy in Giants Stadium, before crashing out.

When Ireland drew 2-2 away to Holland in a 2002 World Cup qualifier, with the visitors having let a two-goal lead slip, Keane was famously downbeat in contrast to others who viewed it as a positive result.

There are echoes of this attitude in Keane the pundit too. In recent times, the Irish assistant boss has criticised Celtic for celebrating Champions League qualification.

The United legend was very much old school in philosophy, and was highly self critical during his playing days, a mentality which turned him into one of the world’s greatest players.

These days, however, a different type of footballer has emerged. In contrast with their predecessors, new players tend to be more sensitive and less willing to accept criticism — veteran managers such as Alex Ferguson have explained how they’ve had to adapt to these changes and handle modern players more delicately. It is one theory as to why the Chelsea players collapsed so spectacularly last year during the end of Jose Mourinho’s tenure — many of the players’ tolerance for the notoriously harsh task master was reportedly wearing thin.

And despite Keane’s presence in the Irish set-up, the Boys in Green squad at times also seems less than immune to perceived criticism.

As was also the case in his first competitive game in charge, O’Neill seemed to get more than a little agitated after the match last night despite relatively mild questioning from RTÉ reporter Tony O’Donoghue.

Moldova v Republic of Ireland - 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying - Group D  - Zimbru Stadium James McClean suggests Ireland should not necessarily expect to beat the likes of Georgia and Moldova. PA Archive / Press Association Images PA Archive / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

James McClean also showed signs of wariness with the present situation.

McClean echoed O’Neill’s sentiments that Ireland were not good enough to “wipe the floor” with teams.

“The Irish press especially, they need a bit of a reality check,” he told Sky Sports. “We’re not going to blow teams away. We’ve always been a team that works hard.”

It is certainly a stark contrast to Keane against Holland and signals how the Irish footballing mindset has changed in the last 15 years.

It is perhaps indicative too of how standards in Irish football have declined in recent years to a degree — the Irish side no longer possess a player of the calibre of Keane, or even namesake Robbie and Damien Duff in their prime. Whereas once, a draw with Holland wouldn’t do, now we should apparently be grateful for a win over Moldova and Georgia — the 137th and 161st ranked teams in the world respectively.

Whether this more pragmatic mindset is a bad thing is debatable. It’s not as if a team who have beaten Italy and Germany over the past year can be accused of lacking self belief.

You would still wonder, however, whether Keane agrees with O’Neill that drawing against Serbia was “not bad at all,” as the manager claimed last night.

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