Since the appointment of Stephen Kenny as the Republic's senior international manager, there has been plenty of takes in the media on what the future will hold for the national soccer team. Most have a positive outlook. Some would say naively optimistic – I hope the consensus offered by the journalists is right.
Many articles in the media offer a chronology. Dominant narratives emerge, particularly relating to managers. We are told that ‘Jack's era was great but failed to exploit the talent available’, ‘Kerr was hard done by’, Trap/O’Neill brought relative success but at a cost’. I think the latest is ‘Mick flopped the second time around’. Salient memories are drawn on including famous goals, handballs and bust-ups.
While these takes are not inaccurate, I'm cautious of them. They leave out a lot. The highly selective nature of the popular accounts can also be reinforced in the consciousness of the general fan. For one manager in particular certain poor results are forgotten. For other managers, good performances are not given fair dues.
I’ll try and offer a different take here. The aim is to consider our performance over time using our ELO rating. I'm going to indulge and offer a different narrative that keeps the (unscientific) element of picking out salient moments. A type of historical revisionism so to speak where most of the popular highs/lows don't feature.
Before the narrative, the graph below shows our ELO from 1988 to date. For international readers, 1988’ is generally considered the BC/AD moment for Irish international soccer as this was when the Republic qualified for the finals stage of a major tournament for the first time (Euro 88’).
On the ELO rating system, this was adapted from chess and scores soccer teams based on performance. Among a range of factors, points are awarded based on the type of match played (qualifier/friendly etc.), home advantage, opponent quality, goal difference and expected results.
Our highest rating was in August 2002 (1917 points). This was recorded during Mick McCarthy’s first spell. Our lowest rating was recorded in August 1997 (1685 points), also during McCarthy’s first stint as manager. There is a downward trend since 2002. Our average rating from 1988 to present is 1791.1.
While the rating starts to decline again at the start of the Euro 2004 qualifiers, the Staunton era brought about a sharper decay - we haven't recovered from this.
- June 11, 1995 - Toni Polster - The Austrian represents our ratings slide and the beginning of the end for the Charlton era. He scored twice in Landsdowne Road as Ireland finished the group in second place and lost a playoff to the Netherlands.
- August 20, 1997 - Not 'A Macedonia' - Our lowest ebb. No, not the 3-2 defeat in Macedonia where we wore the infamous orange jerseys but rather that lesser remembered 0-0 draw at home to Lithuania. You can join the other 129 YouTube viewers that have revisited our darkest day here (commentary not in English).
- September 5, 1998 - Irwin's Penalty - we start to repair our ranking under Mick McCarthy and Denis Irwin scores a penalty in a home win against Croatia
- August 21, 2002 - Graham Barrett - Our highest ELO rating since 1988. Graham Barrett, scored the third in a 3-0 friendly win against Finland in Helsinki.
- September 8, 2004 - Hakin Yakin - Ireland's slide back down the rankings is captured by the swiss attacker. He scored in both home and away legs against the Republic during the Euro 2004 qualification and later again in the World Cup 2006 qualification campaign.
- October 7, 2006 - Constantinos Charalambides - Another low point. A memorable one too. A 5-2 loss to Cyprus where Charalambides who, along with Michalis Konstantinou, scored a brace in Nicosia.
- August 22, 2007 - Robbie Keane - The rating enters a period of relative stability, Robbie Keane is the face of a 4-0 friendly win in Denmark.
- November 11, 2011 - Keith Andrews Header - the trend improves and a local high point is recorded after a 4-0 playoff win in Estonia.
- June 18, 2012 - Mario Balotelli - The rating slides again after a woeful performance at Euro 2012, albeit among hot competition. Balotelli’s late goal is the final nail in the coffin.
- June 12, 2014 - Cristiano Ronaldo & Stephen Kelly - Portugal 5, Ireland 1. A friendly in the USA marks our second lowest rank in recent history, having lost to Sweden at home earlier in campaign to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
- November 12, 2016 - James McLean - A recent high point on the declining trend. Martin O’Neill recovers the fortunes of the side and the McLean winner in Austria gave an extremely rare away win for Ireland against a team seeded above us in a competitive match.
- November 15, 2018 – Darren Randolph Save - two years on from McClean's goal in Austria, we hit our most recently low. An apt 0-0 draw at home to Northern Ireland, Darren Randolph rescued a draw.
Currently, our rating is 1730 points. If Stephen Kenny brings us back up to our average it will be a job well done. He would have to recover 60 points, give-or-take. If he can reverse the trend, qualification for major competitions would likely be a by-product.