As Scotland failed to take all three points from their game against Slovenia on Sunday night, it sets up things nicely for Ireland as we face Wales in Cardiff tonight. A win against Chris Coleman’s men will guarantee us a play-off place. If Serbia lose at home to Georgia – unlikely but possible – then we go through automatically.
If Ireland fail to win, then Martin O’Neill’s men will not be going to Russia next summer.
The big talking point from the Wales camp is that they are missing their world-class superstar Gareth Bale. And he will be missed. But that’s not to underestimate the Welsh team who can cause Ireland serious problems. But I believe so can we to them.
“I think our approach will be quite similar to the one we had against Italy in Lille,” Martin O’Neill said in a press conference in Cardiff yesterday. “Where we knew before the game that a win was the only thing that mattered for us.”
While James McCarthy is ruled out for the crucial game, Ireland will be grateful to see the return of Robbie Brady and James McClean who are both back from suspension.
“Whatever game-plan we have, we are going to try to utilise it as best we possibly can,” the Ireland boss said. “At the end of 90 minutes, we have got to find ourselves in front. I think we are capable of doing that.”
The nerves are kicking in for this writer, that’s for sure.
It’s been quite the extraordinary week. With the news of new President-elect of the United States, the loss of the beloved Leonard Cohen, as well as the historic UFC event taking place in New York this weekend dominating the sports headlines, it’s easy to forget that the Boys In Green face Austria is a huge World Cup qualifying match tomorrow.
What should never be forgotten is the inclusion of Dundalk’s Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan. The duo have impressed Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane – and rightly so. Dundalk have been performing fearlessly both domestically and, impressively, on the European stage.
Defender John O’Shea and midfielder James McClean had been doubts for the tie in Vienna because of hamstring and back injuries respectively, however both were able to depart with the squad this morning. Only one player, Leeds midfielder Eunan O’Kane, has been forced to return to his club with a groin injury.
Something that bothered me last week was the reports Eamon Dunphy gave that Ireland, if we play well, can earn a point at the Ernst Happel Stadion tomorrow. Content with a draw, it’s a wonder why Dunphy never went into football management. It reminds me of the time former Ireland goalkeeper coach Alan Kelly said that “two points out of six” wouldn’t be too bad for two similar qualifying games for Euro 2012. He was relieved of those duties in 2013.
A point would be the bare minimum we should leave Vienna with. Also despite our lack of attacking available tomorrow, and Austria’s world-class players like, most notably, David Alaba, the boys in green have absolutely nothing to fear. Determination and heart has always been Ireland’s strong point. It won’t be easy, but it’s doable.
The squad is:
Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph (West Ham United), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday), Colin Doyle (Bradford City)
Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Richard Keogh, Alex Pearce (Derby County), John O’Shea (Sunderland), Ciaran Clark (Newcastle United), Paul McShane (Reading), Shane Duffy (Brighton & Hove Albion), Andy Boyle (Dundalk)
Midfielders: Aiden McGeady (Preston North End), James McClean (West Bromwich Albion), Jeff Hendrick (Burnley), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Harry Arter (Bournemouth), David Meyler (Hull City), Stephen Gleeson (Birmingham City), Robbie Brady, Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City), Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City), Jonathan Hayes (Aberdeen), Daryl Horgan (Dundalk)
Forwards: Jonathan Walters (Stoke City), Adam Rooney (Aberdeen), Kevin Doyle (Colorado Rapids), David McGoldrick (Ipswich Town)
I’m quite passionate about my national team. I always have been. My earliest memories of the Boys In Green is them getting knocked out of Euro ’88 at the hands of Wim Kieft’s late goal for The Netherlands in Gelsenkirchen. When the FAI announced the season ticket scheme a number of years ago, I jumped at the opportunity. I feel I can no longer fund the FAI and here’s why.
You’re probably aware by now of the FAI’s €100,000 grant programme to 20 clubs, granting €5,000 per club to assist them in meeting five-year strategic plans. That’s a grand per year per club. It was refused immediately by first Derry City, calling the figure “disgraceful and disrespectful”.
Then it was refused by St. Patrick’s Athletic, who said in a statement that the FAI had “utterly failed in its responsibility to the domestic game and to those clubs who, in spite of its indifference, have managed to keep some semblance of professionalism within football in Ireland.”
The FAI hit back with a statement of their own expressing “extreme disappointment” with the Inchicore club.
It was quite astonishing to many, myself included. Pat’s responded. “Our game is in crisis,” they wrote. “What prevails with the FAI is an approach whereby it decides everything and where it dictates policy with the occasional PR flurry to try and create a public image that its senior executives are committed to change and to improvement.”
It should be pointed out at this point the salary of the FAI’s CEO John Delaney is €360,000 – after two pay cuts. That’s around €7,000 a week – more than the actual figure each League of Ireland club will receive from the FAI for the five-year plan. Let’s not forget that this is the man who called the League of Ireland “a difficult child” – a phenomenally disrespectful statement to say the least.
If the league is a difficult child, that man is certainly an absent parent.
Besides, isn’t it in the FAI’s interests to improve the league properly so we can produce more top international players like Shane Long, Wes Hoolahan, Seamus Coleman etc.?
I personally feel that I can no longer fund the FAI with buying tickets and merchandise. I cannot fund that man’s salary any longer. There’s something not quite right with the huge salary he receives compared to the League of Ireland teams barely keeping their head above water.
By now you are probably aware of Dundalk’s amazing 3-0 victory over BATE Borisov which progresses the League of Ireland side to the Champions League play-off stages. It is, and I know I’m not alone here, probably one of the most remarkable achievements by a domestic club side in history.
The victory guarantees Stephen Kenny’s side with group-stage European football. A remarkable achievement in itself. But the victory against BATE, who have beaten Roma, Athletic Bilbao, Lille and a little-known club in Bayern Munich in the Champions League since 2012, is wonderful. The Lilywhites want to go that one step further.
“We’re not content with the Europa League,” said midfielder Robbie Benson. “We want to make the Champions League.”
Whoever Dundalk’s opponents are at the next phase may not be that clued up on them. And that could make Stephen Kenny’s men dangerous – as BATE Borisov, a mainstay in the Champions League in recent years – found out first hand.
Money and the League of Ireland have never gone together. When the FAI announced that they were going to invest in all League of Ireland clubs, eyebrows were raised. The amount? €5,000. I could write plenty of posts about that and the FAI’s CEO, but I’ll resist.
They are guaranteed a figure of around €5.6m and qualification for the group stages of the Europa League – more should they do the impossible and get into the Champions League group stages. Invested properly and they could be a force to reckon with at both the domestic and European scene.
The Boys in Green have three home friendlies pencilled in before taking off to France for Euro 2016.
Martin O’Neill’s men will face Switzerland on Friday 25th March before taking on Slovakia the following Tuesday. And today the FAI confirmed that the Netherlands will be the opponents for our friendly at the Aviva on Sunday May 22nd.
Robin van Persie & co won’t be joining us in next summer’s competition – the first time the country hasn’t feature in the finals since 1984. Though they boast some serious talent such as Arjen Robben, Daley Blind, Wesley Sneijder and rising star Davy Klaasen.
And, in case you haven’t heard, Ireland’s fixtures for Euro 2016 are:
Monday 13 June, 18.00 (Paris): Republic of Ireland v Sweden
Saturday 18 June, 15.00 (Bordeaux): Belgium v Republic of Ireland
Wednesday 22 June, 21.00 (Lille): Italy v Republic of Ireland
For any player looking to expand their horizons and play in an unfamiliar league, success is ultimately the goal. No matter who it is or where you come from. Irish players have done this and some have been successful. Some less so. Unfortunately for Steve Finnan, he falls in the latter category. Injuries and plain bad luck made the Champions League winner´s tenure at RCD Espanyol somewhat underwhelming.
Espanyol are a Barcelona-based club originally from the middle-class neighborhood of Sarrià. Their former stadium, the EstadioSarrià was used as one of Spain´s World Cup venues in 1982 hosting players like Diego Maradona, Zico, Marco Tardelli, Socrates and Dino Zoff.
The stadium was sold and demolished in 1997 and the club were forced to take up home in the purpose-built Olympic Stadium at the scenic Montjuic hill. The stadium had seen the world´s greatest athletes compete in the 1992 Olympic Games. On transfer deadline day in 2008, Liverpool defender Steve Finnan would now call it his home.
Finnan arrived in Barcelona with an impressive C.V. He has been a Champions League winner just a few seasons before in what some describe as one of the greatest Champions League finals – a game in which he started in. Along with his 150 appearances for Liverpool, Finnan has also played for Birmingham City, Notts County and Fulham. Falling out of favour with then manager Rafa Benitez, Finnan´s exit from Anfield seemed likely.
It was then, on September 1st 2008, that Espanyol signed Limerick-born defender on a two year deal for an undisclosed fee. Not that Finnan wanted to leave Liverpool. “It was totally out of the blue,” Finnan told the press at the time. “It’s exciting to be going to a great club in Spain but I didn’t want to leave”.
Sensing there would be limited opportunities at Anfield, he added “But it was obvious that I wasn’t going to get a game by staying so I didn’t really have much choice”. From the lower leagues of England to European glory with Liverpool, Steve Finnan´s next adventure was La Liga.
Of course, Spain is not an easy league to succeed in. Finnan was going to the same league where legendary players from England´s top flight such as Mark Hughes and Michael Owen had both previously failed. Having arrived with muscular problems, he didn´t make his debut immediately. But on on 20th of September 2008, Steve Finnan made his debut for Espanyol against Getafe at the Olympic Stadium coming on as a substitute for striker Raúl Tamudo with eleven minutes to go. The game finished 1-1.
Four days later, Espanyol were due to travel to southern Spain to take on Sevilla at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuan stadium. With French-born defender Gregory Beranger forced to withdraw from the squad due to injury, Finnan was now in the starting eleven. Espanyol´s coach Bartolome Marquez admitted before the match that it would be far from an easy debut for Finnan, saying: ‘It will be a baptism of fire because he will play on one of the flanks and that’s where Sevilla have some very good players’.
Finnan knew he´d be up against the class of Jesus Navas and Luis Fabiano. This was his opportunity to shine for his new club. Show them all what he is made of. The game kicked off at 8pm before a near-full house. With an unbelievable and cruel twist of fate, injury struck Finnan down after just 33 minutes. He was tragically forced to be taken off while JaviChica, a young Catalan right-back took his place for the remainder of the game. Espanyol ultimately the game lost the game 2-0.
Finnan´s injury was a slight tear in his left thigh muscle. It was a big setback for the defender. He would certainly miss out on the opportunity to play against local rivals FC Barcelona in the Olympic Stadium the following week. Barça fans see the game against Real Madrid (commonly known in Spain as “el clásico”) as the biggest fixture in their calendar. Espanyol fans look no further than the “Derbi Barceloní” – Espanyol v Barcelona. Finnan would have been made aware of the huge importance of the game for the club ´Blanc i Blau´ faithful.
But aswell as that, Espanyol was looking for experience in their right-back position on a more long-term basis. Sergio Sanchez was challenging Finnan for the position and in 2008, Sanchez was severely lacking the experience and confidence he posseses now. In the end, it turned out to be mid-November before Finnan could play for Espanyol again.
Espanyol coach Bartolome Marquez selected Finnan in the starting eleven for Espanyol´s home game against Numancia. Finnan took up his usual right-back role with Gregory Beranger on the opposite flank. The game started poorly for Finnan. After just 14 minutes, his side went a goal down. Espanyolequalised after 35 minutes. Numancia took the lead and Espanyolequalised yet again in second half.
Then, after 72 minutes Espanyol were awarded a penalty. 3-2. Just eighteen minutes to hold on before Finnan would get his first ever win in Spain. With six minutes to go, Numanciaequalised. Then very cruelly, in the 93rd minute Carlos Bellvís left footed shot captured Numancia´s winner. The game finished 3-4 and the 18,000 Espanyol fans were left deflated. As was Espanyol´s Irishman in the number 15 jersey.
The Republic of Ireland had featured in a friendly the following Wednesday against Poland. The boys in green lost 2-3 at Croke Park. The result ended Giovanni Trapattoni´s six game unbeaten run. Finnan didn´t get a call-up. On Sunday 23rd November, Espanyol travelled to the port city of Santander to face local club Racing de Santander at El Sardinero. Finnan was selected once again in the starting line-up in his usual right-back position.
It wasn´t a good evening.Espanyol were beaten 3-0 in a fairly one-sided affair – the same result Santander inflicted on the ´Blanc i Blau´ the previous season at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona. Little did he know at the time but this, only his forth appearance, was to be Steve Finnan´s last game for Espanyol. A training ground injury would see Finnan watch his team from the sidelines for the remainder of the year.
By the time the next transfer window arrived, Finnan has looked for a way out of Spain. Injuries and bad luck grew his frustrations. It emerged in January 2009, Hull City were keen on the Irish defender. The press at that time had been speculating that Hull´s then-manager Phil Brown was interested in offering Espanyol £1 million and a deal that would see Finnan play in a more familiar league. He had yet to win a match in an Espanyol jersey.
There was also a rumour that Tottenham wanted his services in a loan-deal, but it wouldn´t have been a wise move considering the talent Spurs had that season in defence. Then the reports came that Finnan failed a medical at Hull. Finnan remained silent and told journalists “What do you want me to tell you? I can say nothing publicly. You would have to ask Hull. You ask them. In reality it was not strange; it was not strange for me”. The deal fell through and Finnan would have to remain in Catalonia.
Espanyol has a new coach in José Manuel Esnal, the much travelled Basque better known as Mané. Himself and sporting director Paco Herrera (who was previously Liverpool´s assistant manager under Rafael Benitez) insisted that Finnan was a valuable member of the squad. Further injuries caused Finnan to watch the club´s remaining fixtures from the sidelines. After 38 games and just 12 wins, Espanyol finished in 10th position – exactly in mid-table. Finnan featured in four games and didn´t win one. On Monday 29th July 2009, Espanyol released a statement that they had mutually terminated Finnan´s contract due to “consecutive injuries that have not allowed him to fight for a place in the line-up”. Two days later, he returned to England and signed for Portsmouth, where the Irish defender saw out his career. His time at Espanyol could only be best described as luckless
Espanyol have since moved to a brand new €60 million stadium in Cornellá, just outside Barcelona city. However, just beside the club´s former ground, the Olympic Stadium, there lies a small park with a sign on the fence reading in Spanish “No ball games”. Thanks to sheer bad luck, Steve Finnan barely had the chance.
In the thick Bosnian fog, Ireland were oh so close to recording a huge away competitive win. Robbie Brady opened the scoring for the Boys In Green with eight minutes to go. It was a lead that lasted three minutes.
Plagued by injuries and suspensions, Ireland showed great spirit. As for Bosnia, despite the great talents of goalscorer Edin Dzeko and the world-class Miralem Pjanić, they seemed unremarkable and lacked hunger.
We go into the second leg the happier team. The away goal could make all the difference. Monday night in the Aviva should be busy with a full house expected. But it’s far from over. There’s a lot more to be done in the second leg.
I would expect to see more from Bosnia on Monday night. Make no mistake, they are more than capable of causing an upset. But with Irish players returning from suspension (more from injury hopefully), I also expect to see more from the Boys In Green too.
The Boys In Green were earlier today confirmed to face Bosnia-Herzegovina in the play-off for Euro 2016. The first fixture will take place in Zenica on Friday 13th November – bad news for those who are superstitious. The return leg will take place at the Aviva Stadium the following Monday.
It will be a tough test as Ireland will be without the suspended John O’Shea and Jon Walters. As for fans, it is not an easy journey. Bosnia’s stadium in Zenica, 70 km away from the capital of Sarajevo, holds 15,600 and visiting supporters are likely to receive only around 750 tickets. Also the fact of no direct flights will be problematic to some.
Tonight’s results brought a few surprises. The Netherlands were battered by the Czech Republic is the night’s biggest shock. Turkey were grateful for Kazakhstan beating Latvia to finish fifth in Group A, otherwise Hungary would have qualified. So what does that mean for us? Well here is the ranking from the best third-placed teams:
Group A: Turkey 16pts – qualified automatically Group F: Hungary 15pts – play-offs Group C: Ukraine 13pts – play-offs Group H: Norway 13pts – play-offs Group I: Denmark 12pts – play-offs Group G: Sweden 12pts – play-offs Group D: Republic of Ireland 12pts – play-offs Group B: Bosnia and Herzegovina 11pts – play-offs Group E: Slovenia 10pts – play-offs
• Four sides will be seeded and drawn against the four non-seeds. The teams will be seeded for the play-off draw according to the UEFA national team coefficient rankings updated after the completion of the group stage. The four top-ranked teams will be seeded and be paired with unseeded teams. The seedings will be confirmed on Wednesday.
• After the draw is made on Sunday, ties will be allocated to be played on either 12 & 15 November, 13 & 16 November or 14 & 17 November, with at least one game on each night.
The seeded teams are:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
while we are unseeded alongside:
Republic of Ireland
My preference at this moment in time is Hungary. But there’s no real easy match when there’s this much pressure on. Keep your eye on the draw on Sunday.
We went into the game in Warsaw with the knowledge that we would be guaranteed at least a play-off spot. However, the best team won in the Polish capital tonight, and they weren’t wearing green shirts. Ireland simply couldn’t create the chances. Martin O’Neill’s men started with a hint of nervousness and ended up being frustrated. The result was fair. But we’re not out. Not yet.
Ireland’s fate for next summer’s Euros will be decided in a month from now with the first legs being played from 12-14 November and second legs on 15-17 November.
Going to France next summer, aside from the host nation, will be Wales, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Portugal, Iceland, Czech Republic, England, Austria, Germany, Poland, Portugal and Armenia.
Eight third-placed teams in the qualifying groups will contest four places in the finals. The best four ranked teams will be seeded. The other four will not. As it stands, we fall into the latter category. But let’s see how it develops.
Our heroics last Thursday against Germany helped to get us in this position and, let’s face it, we would have taken a play-off six months ago.
Today was very disappointing, but hey, we’re not out yet.
On Monday, Aston Villa’s hot prospect Jack Grealish announced that he will give his allegiance to England, should he be called up to their senior squad.
In a short statement, he announced that “It was not an easy decision to make as Ireland has a special place to me through my family. However, I have decided to represent the country of my birth.”
The news will come as a disappointment to Ireland fans, as he represented the Boys In Green on almost 20 occasions from under-17 to under-21 level. He is also known to tweet the more-than-occasional shamrock emoji as well as the popular #COYBIG hashtag. That very well may change now.
Grealish now joins the likes of Wayne Rooney, Martin Keown and Paul Gascoigne, and will don the white shirt of England instead of the green of Ireland. Good luck to him.
Ireland have benefited plenty of times in the past with English born players via the so-called “granny rule”. Names like Aldridge, Kilbane, Cascarino, McCarthy, Lawrenson, Sheedy, Hughton have all played a massive part over the years. Even in our squad now, Scottish born-and-bred players like McGeady and McCarthy would be considered star players for the Tartan Army had they not have pledged to the sacred green shirt.
There’s also some players that could have been a huge benefit to our Northern Irish neighbours such as Wilson, McClean and Gibson until they declared themselves for the Republic. Hull City’s Alex Bruce did the opposite recently.
So, in short, Ireland fans can be disappointed. But we can’t complain. When it comes down to it, I’d much rather have a player who felt Irish and loves playing for Ireland rather than one who would much rather be wearing an England shirt. So perhaps it’s best Jack Grealish does play for the country of his birth if that’s where his heart lies. As a season ticket holder for the Republic of Ireland myself, I can only wish him well.
I was among the 27,000 in the Aviva stadium last night and, despite the positive result, a major effort is needed against the world champions Germany on October 8th.
Eyes will also be on events in Hampden Park on the same evening for if Scotland lose to Poland, Ireland will be guaranteed third place regardless of the outcome in the Aviva. Two wins in our final two games will see us move into second place – and automatic qualification.
It’s probably coming to the time now where Robbie Keane is dropped from our starting eleven. I know, I know. The LA Galaxy man simply doesn’t have the energy he had in previous years. Not to take anything away from him – he’s still our record goalscorer (by a long way) and one of the greatest players to ever wear the green jersey.
Also worth mentioning from my point of view is that the FAI should really reconsider their pricing scheme for home games. There was 27,000 last night. In a very, very important Euro 2016 qualifier. Unthinkable if the old Lansdowne Road was only just over 50% full for a qualifier a decade ago.
For last night’s match, while a child’s ticket was €10, tickets in the upper and lower tiers ranged from €35 to €50. If you were to sit in the premium section would set you back an astonishing €100. A hundred euros? The FAI need to rethink their prices. I, for one, am fed up of seeing thousands upon thousands of empty seats at our games.
Yes, we were uninspiring. Yes, Robbie is probably past it now. Yes, it’s too expensive to even go to these games for many. But all the negatives aside, a place in Euro 2016 is within reach. And that must be both players’ and fans’ mentality when we face the world champions next month.
Clear your calendar clear for 10th June until 10th July next summer. Just in case.
Happy birthday to Bohemians, who tomorrow celebrate their 125th birthday. On the eve of the Gypsies’ birthday, fans took to the Ha’penny Bridge at 1.25am this morning to celebrate the anniversary in style with flares and a banner that read “Our Bohemian City”.
But Bohs have always been a club with a great awareness of wider social issues and also displayed a banner of support to those affected by the current refugee crisis this morning. It simply read “Refugees welcome”.
It wasn’t the best performance from the Boys In Green, but the result was a given. A credit to Gibraltar, for such a small footballing (and indeed geographical) nation, they improved since the two teams’ last encounter.
Martin O’Neill has been somewhat inconsistent with his selections so I’d be keen to see what team he fields on Monday night.
Well done to Robbie Keane who added onto his goalscoring tally in the green shirt and to Shane Long also, who needed to score that goal – especially if he is to start on Monday night.
Congratulations to Cyrus Christie, too. It was a big night for the lad and he scored a great goal. I was impressed with the Derby man and he could easily be someone to keep an eye on in the future.
There was however no really outstanding players on the pitch last night, but it was that type of game. Luckily for us, Georgia done us a favour in Tsiblisi.
I don’t think that Monday will a guaranteed win. I don’t have the confidence in the current team. A defeat will effectively crush our hopes of going to France next summer.
Georgia come to Dublin with a bit of spring in their step having beaten the Scots. Our performance last night didn’t do us favours in terms of confidence. Ireland need to win their final games of the group. A fall at the first hurdle on Monday will be devastating.
We will be the favourites against Georgia, but they have proven that they can be difficult to beat.
It could have been a lot worse. While Ireland avoided some of the big guns such as Spain, Germany or Italy, Group D for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers sees Wales, Austria, Serbia, Moldova and Georgia join the Boys In Green.
The qualifying groups in full:
Group A: Netherlands, France, Sweden, Bulgaria, Belarus, Luxembourg
Group B: Portugal, Switzerland, Hungary, Faroe Islands, Latvia, Andorra
Group C: Germany, Czech Republic, NORTHERN IRELAND, Norway, Azerbaijan, San Marino
Group D: WALES, Austria, Serbia, REPUBLIC OF IRELAND, Moldova, Georgia
Group E: Romania, Denmark, Poland, Montenegro, Armenia, Kazakhstan
Group F: ENGLAND, Slovakia, SCOTLAND, Slovenia, Lithuania, Malta
Group G: Spain, Italy, Albania, Israel, Macedonia, Liechtenstein
Group H: Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Greece, Estonia, Cyprus
Group I: Croatia, Iceland, Ukraine, Turkey, Finland.
Some interesting fixtures there with England and Scotland drawn in the same group. That won’t be a dull fixture, that’s for sure. Netherlands and France will be a huge battle and of course Spain against Italy is another massive fixture.
For the Republic of Ireland, however, we avoided some huge footballing nations there. That’s not to belittle just exactly the damage any of our opponents can inflict. There’s no real easy games there.
It’s hard to tell just exactly what kind of a squad we’ll have going into the campaign, but time will tell. Martin O’Neill, assuming he will still be in the hotseat then, will be delighted how the group turned out no doubt.