After the disappointing result against Poland, which ensured Martin O’Neill’s team would have to contest a play-off to secure a spot in France come next summer, pundit Eamon Dunphy provided some interesting analysis.
Dunphy stated how ‘after last week, when we really put on a bit of a performance against a strong German team....It was back to the bad stuff’. When it was put to him that had Richard Keogh’s header went in Martin O’Neill style of play would of been vindicated, he added ‘You see it in the lower levels in England, you see it in the Phoenix Park; guys are desperate and they start lumping balls forward, the defender makes a mistake and you get a half chance. International football requires more sophistication.’’
I’m sure many would agree with Dunphy, in the sense that playing a long ball game is not only ineffective, but also not particularly easy on the eye. However, if we were to measure different styles of football under the guise of national comparative advantage, Ireland would surely top the table.
Ask any Irish fan of memorable results which stick in their memory and I’m positive you’ll hear tales of Euro 88, Italia 90 or Japan and Korea 02. Unfortunately, while shock results don’t occur too often for our national football team, when they do, a common formula seems to occur.
12 June 1988 – European Championship Finals: Ireland 1-0 England
Long ball from defence resulting in an eventual Houghton goal
15 June 1988 - European Championship Finals: Ireland 1-1 Soviet Union
Long throw into USSR box results in Whelan volley
26 April 1989 – World Cup Qualifier: Ireland 1-0 Spain
Long ball by Bonner, flick by Cascarino, cross by Houghton results in Miguel OG
14 November 1990 – European Championship Qualifier: Ireland 1-1 England
Long ball by Staunton results in Cascarino header
11 June 1990 – World Cup Finals: Ireland 1-1 England
Long ball by Bonner eventually leads to Sheedy equaliser
21 June 1990 – World Cup Finals: Ireland 1-1 Netherlands
Long ball eventually leads to Quinn goal
18 June 1994 – World Cup Finals: Ireland 1-0 Italy
Long ball eventually drops to Houghton who scores
5 June 2002 – World Cup Finals: Ireland 1-1 Germany
Long ball by Kinsella, Quinn flick on, Robbie Keane goal
1 April 2009 – World Cup Qualifier: Italy 1-1 Ireland
Long ball from defence, Folan flick on, Keane goal
8 October 2015 – European Championship Qualifier: Ireland 1-0 Germany
Long ball from Randolph leads to Long goal
It would appear that the vast majority of memorable Irish results over the last thirty years have been thanks to a more direct style of football. Obviously there are certain outliers, most notably the home and away results against the Netherlands in the qualifying campaign for Japan and Korea. However, the next time you hear someone complain about an Irish player booting a ball towards the opposition goal, think of all the remarkable Irish footballing moments of the past that may not have occurred if we had not.