Broken domestic game and poor management are taking Republic of Ireland back to dark days of the 1970s
With a humiliating 9-2 deficit in their last two competitive games, this is Republic of Irelandâs worst such spell since an aggregate 10-1 loss to Austria in 1971 - and the brutal truth is that this is probably the worst side since those dark days, too.
A small football country that has prided itself on overachieving for the past three decades is now facing up to a return to the times when qualification was barely a hope. It already seems certain that Republic of Ireland will suffer an embarrassing last-place finish in their Uefa Nations League group, and relegation from the B division.
There are caveats â" the squad was missing senior players like Robbie Brady and James McClean â" but their return will barely do much to change the lower-half Premier League/Championship look of the squad.
The line of world-class players going from Jonny Carey through to John Giles, Liam Brady and Roy Keane has now long been broken, but there is so much else broken about Irish football. The lower-league status of so much of the squad - and so much of the squadâs medium-term future - is a consequence of a highly dysfunctional domestic structure. T he country has long got away with it due to the diaspora, societal factors and blind luck, but a largely blind reliance on such fortune was always going to make a situation like this inevitable.
It is really remarkable it didnât happen sooner, given the evident disconnect between an underfunded and underappreciated domestic league and a talent production system with so many gaps. Those at the coalface do admirable work and there have been some improvements, creating some very promising underage teams in the last two years. But it is going to be a while before they come through, with few guarantees, meaning the next two to six years could be rough.
The next two to six months could be worse. For all the macro problems in Republic of Irelandâs football structure, and all the justified complaints that Martin OâNeill and Keane might have about the paucity of quality, there are more immediate questions to be asked about how theyâre overseeing it.
The management team did well to get Republic of Ireland through to the last 16 of Euro 2016 with a limited team powered by emotional resilience and defiance, but an approach like that was always going to have a finite effect, and it seems to have gone t oo far the other side. Everything is now caving in, resulting in humiliations like these at Cardiff, rather than everything being built up for heroic victories like those against Germany and Italy.
The most damning aspect is that the intangible qualities that initially improved this squad have not been replaced by a tangible structure. Modern international football has repeatedly proved that, regardless of quality, a bit of organisation and tactical nous can go an awful long way. Thatâs the nature of the level now. There is no greater example than neighbours Northern Ireland.
Ireland now look a much worse team, because they donât have anything resembling such rigour.
They have a management team now almost exclusively dealing in motivation from two decades out of date, meaning Republic of Ireland are now looking at results from four decades ago.
It all looks so bleak.
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