Those hoping for a respectable Euro 2012 showing for the Republic Of Ireland might take some slim consolation in Sunday night’s 3-1 defeat to Croatia being just the former’s 3rd loss in a competitive match since Giovanni Trapattoni’s appointment as manager some 4 years ago. Those who actually watched the contest, however, might take a somewhat more realistic view of what The Guardian’s Simon Burton and Paul Doyle call, “a humiliation waiting to happen.” “Over 20,000 brilliantly boisterous fans,” opine the duo, “can’t compensate for the intransigence of one pig-headed manager.” Hey, tell it to anyone who’s watched Buddy Bell flash his strategic chops.
Ireland’s much-vaunted meanness in defence coming into the tournament was not the fruit of a canny system, rather a curio created by freakish individual heroism and luck, neither of which could have been considered sustainable by anyone but the most incorrigible of dogmatists. And yet, even as Croatia dissected Ireland through the simple device of accurate passes, it is unlikely that Giovanni Trapattoni ever questioned his decision to totally ignore Wes Hoolahan, who may not be a world-beater but at least has imagination and technique, qualities that even 73 years on earth have not taught Trappatoni to appreciate.
And even when Stephen Ward – a forward converted into a left-back as some kind of booby-trapped gift from former Ireland manager Mick McCarthy – was shanking the ball into the path of grateful Croatians, it is unlikely that Trapattoni lamented leaving out Seamus Coleman, Stephen Kelly or even Ian Harte. Still, at least Kelly was in the ground, possibly debating with James McClean as to who should be the first to pilfer an inflatable knobbly stick from a crestfallen fan and bring it down with suitably ineffective force on the head of Trapattoni.
It’s all very well claiming that Trap has done well to get Ireland to the final, but when all they had to do to get there was sidestep Armenia and Estonia, their presence does represent proof that the manager is maximising his resources. That is not to say they could be European champions, just that they could be a darn sight more palatable than the dog’s dinner served up last night.