It will come as little surprise to many that two of my most vivid recollections of the 1990 World Cup in Italy revolve around farming. The first was being in the cab of a neighbouring farmer’s tractor listening to the Ireland-England match as Kevin Sheedy scored. Memory number two is of hay making grinding to a halt to enable the workforce watch the penalty shootout in Genoa.
Now read on…
As far as can be recalled – and one sits to be corrected – Sheedy was the only member of the Irish squad employed by Everton at the time. There was, however, quite a few members thereof enlisted on the other side of the same city. Steve Staunton, Ronnie Whelan, Ray Houghton and John Aldridge all plied their trade in Liverpool red at the time.
How the picture has changed now. It’s probably highly symbolic of where Irish football is at presently when it’s considered that the representation of this nation at Anfield, Old Trafford and many of the other top clubs across the water is almost nil. Plenty in the mid-table region, but nearer the higher echelons not so.
With one exception. Goodison Park houses what surely must be the biggest contingent. It recently expanded further, with Aiden McGeady jettisoning Moscow to link up with Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Darron Gibson. And much like affairs with Liverpool in times past, the blue haven for our players bodes well for green growth. As with anything, it’s only by undertaking a task at a higher level that you’ll improve as you go.
McGeady has already proven himself capable of playing at the highest level having gained European experience with both Celtic and Moscow. Gibson, too, has operated at the highest level, albeit fleetingly. Furthermore, with no disrespect intended, it was apparent during his time with Wigan that James McCarthy was well capable of operating at a higher level.
Roberto Martinez comes across as one of the most astute men in English football. Also one of the most affable. His belief in McCarthy was manifested simply in the fact that he made the midfielder the fulcrum of his team while at Wigan and immediately took him to Merseyside upon appointment thence.
You’d expect that – on his return – Gibson will join McCarthy at the focal point of an already potent midfield. The most recent arrival adding further spice to an already tasty mix. The real gem in the collection, mind you, is Coleman. His potential has always been obvious, yet, as time has gone on, his influence at Everton has rocketed and – after belatedly getting his chance – he has gone on to be a bedrock is the Irish team too. That’s likely to be the case for many years to come.
Indeed, the same most likely applies to the entire Irish contingent currently under the stewardship of Martinez. Their inclusion – with the exception of Coleman as he’s a defender – would ensure a solidity around the centre that’s often been lacking at times. Donegal’s latest soccer prodigy will of course be a key component of the defensive unit for Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane going forward. Of much interest, though, will be the makeup of the remainder of the rearguard. Richard Dunne and John O’Shea have unquestionably been outstanding servants, but neither has time on their side.
Replacing both – whenever the need arises – will be quite an onerous task. Ciaran Clark has shown flashes suggesting that he may step up to the plate. That he’s still a bit off being the finished product demonstrates itself every so often too though. Yet he’s still the primary candidate to replace one of the big two when the time arrives.
Finding a partner for him in central defence – and a long term solution at left back – could also be challenging. There should be no shortage of options up front, but, the tricky part could be coming up with the best combination. Especially with Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle, Simon Cox and Shane Long each capable of compiling compelling cases in their own right.
Getting the combination right could be a tricky task in itself but there should be reassurance in the knowledge that the current management should approach matters with an open mind and shouldn’t – it seems on early evidence – be found wanting in terms of scanning far and wide in pursuance of new talent.