At the time of writing this column it seemed like it would be a question of when rather that if Giovanni Trapattoni would be replaced as manager of the Republic of Ireland soccer team.
They had just lost to Austria to end any hopes they had of qualifying for the World Cup finals in Brazil next year.
Realistically though, their hopes ended a long time ago – as far back as before Euro 2012, when the FAI in their wisdom decided to give Mr Trapattoni another two year contract.
That decision beggared belief at the time because, despite getting us to the Euro finals, serious question marks had already been raised about his ability to get the best out of the players who were available to him.
It should be remembered that others, who should have been in the team let alone the squad, were unable to get a look it at that time, as he remained loyal to those who had underperformed for far too long.
In defeat, his chief apologist Liam Brady was at it again in his role as an RTE pundit as he attempted to suggest that the Italian had done well and was worth the money that he had cost the FAI and Denis O’Brien. Fellow pundit Eamon Dunphy was, as usual, a little over the top with his criticism, but on this occasion he was a little bit closer to reality as to where the Republic’s soccer team currently finds itself.
A number of weeks ago I played a round of golf with the third member of the RTE panel, Johnny Giles, and I was surprised when he told me that he felt that Ireland still had a chance of finishing second in the group ahead of both Sweden and Austria. He felt that we could attain six, or at least four, points from our forthcoming games against them.
That would have left us in a great position and Giles’ argument was that neither Sweden or Austria looked any better than us. As things turned out however both teams beat us but that was down to a lack of ambition on our part rather than any great play on behalf of either Sweden or Austria.
Had we won those two games we would now be sitting three points clear in second place while a win and draw would also have left us sitting pretty with two games to play.
Johnny Giles was right in his assessment that both teams were beatable but Mr Trapattoni needed to show much greater desire than heretofore for that to happen. Unfortunately we all now know that didn’t happen and he continued with the tactics he employed at Euro 2012.
While we were never really expected to emerge from our group at those finals it was the manner of our negative performances over the three games which disappointed people most. Surely it would have been better to have had a go rather than being totally negative and getting beat anyway.
Remarkably, Mr Trapattoni’s defeat in Vienna was his first on away soil as Irish manager but it doesn’t take away from the fact that we drew or lost too many games at home to be really competitive. Okay we beat a few minnows along the way. Mind you Luxembourg used to be one of those, which makes me wonder where does that leave our neighbours in Northern Ireland?
Back to Mr Trapattoni who selected Paul Green ahead of Wes Hoolohan on Tuesday night and left James McClean on the bench.
By the time you read this he may well be gone but only if the FAI have the you know what to do it with two games left and his contract not due to expire until next June. Of course that covered the World Cup finals in Rio. Now there was some wishful thinking.
It’s time we got a replacement in as soon as possible. Let’s forget about Euro 2016 and set out sights on qualifying for the 2018 World Cup finals. It’s never too late for a new beginning but for some reason is seems to take us longer than most to realise that.
Championship Part 2
The club championship resumes this weekend after what seems a long time since the group stages were completed. Whatever about that we can now look forward to a couple of exciting games on both Saturday and Sunday.
Many people’s favourites – St Eunan’s – go into Inishowen to face Malin in Buncrana in a repeat of one of the group games. Again, ‘Eunan’s should be good enough to win it but it’s great to see Malin in the quarter finals and they’ll be no pushovers. They’ve shown themselves to be well capable of matching most teams on any given day.
Also on Saturday, MacCumhaills and Killybegs face one another in Convoy. You might say that both these teams surprised more than one or two pundits by emerging out of their respective groups. Killybegs league form has been abysmal but they have real championship DNA in their make-up while MacCumhaills, under former county player Brendan Dunleavy, have been playing consistently well. Expect a cracker with very little between them.
MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey is the setting for the meeting between Glenswilly and Kilcar on Sunday afternoon, Again, these teams met at the group stages – a game that Kilcar won by a point in Towney but only after a late flurry of scores brought Glenswilly back into a contest that had seen them being outplayed for long periods.
Most of this Glenswilly team have already played in two county finals, winning it two years ago, while this young Kilcar team is one you would pick to enjoy success sin the years to come. It’s a hard one to call but if Glenswilly’s big players perform on the day they might just shade it.
The last quarter final is the meeting between Gaoth Dobhair and Ardara in O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny on Sunday evening. Both teams are missing a number of quality players for different reasons but Gaoth Dobhair’s ability to get big results when most needed gives them the edge here.
All in all we’ve in for a feast of football and come Sunday evening there will be only four teams left standing in this year’s Championship race.
US Open tennis
The US Open tennis finals saw wins for Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams at the weekend.
Spanish second seed Nadal defeated Serbian world number one Novak Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 to capture the men’s crown on Monday, a day after Williams outlasted second-ranked Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 7-5, 6-7 (6/8), 6-1.
Nadal’s win made it 13 Grand Slams while Serena was winning her 17th major title. What made the wins more remarkable was that both were coming back from injury – Nadal missing seven months, while illness also saw Serena out of action for a long period of time.
Williams win comes 14 years after her first Grand Slam title in 1999 as she closes to within 5 of the overall record held by Steffi Graf while Nadal is just four behind Roger Federer’s record.