By Darren Casserly
The recent emergence of exciting Irish prospects on the pitch has given the FAI and the Irish public much needed light at the end of the tunnel to start this new decade, after what has undoubtedly been the worst year in the history of the FAI.
While much of the off the pitch issues remains very much up in the air, on the pitch, things at underage have started to change for the better, with many of the underage sides enjoying unprecedented success in European competitions.
One of the most promising areas for this new generation is in the striking department. A statistic has recently made the rounds on social media, which says that four of the eight youngest strikers to play in the Premier League this season are Irish. For this current national side, this could be a godsend, when you consider that since the retirement of Robbie Keane, our highest goal scorer is Shane Long, who hasn’t played for Ireland since 2018 and hasn’t scored for Ireland since 2016. Other than Long, no other striker who has played in the last two years has got more than two goals. Frankly, these new players cannot come soon enough.
It has not just been the squad that has been dismal over these last couple of years, as the managerial appointments have never been anything to shout about, but the imminent promotion of the most progressive manager to take the Irish job has added to the anticipation of a new look national team, if there still is one when UEFA has finished with the FAI.
While it does seem premature to be placing this much hope on the shoulders of players who have played very little senior football, it is, however, hard to blame the Irish supporters, most of whom have stopped watching a long time ago, from getting excited when a group of promising players come through. Along with this comes a manager who wants to play possession-based football, which he has succeeded with at underage level against the best teams in Europe. It is not very often that an Irish side at any level can match a team like Italy, get a draw and still feel like it’s 2 points dropped rather than a point gained.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, some of these players from the underage sides, such as Aaron Connolly and Troy Parrott, have made their debuts for the senior team without doing much at club level. Yet, these selections were overwhelmingly welcomed by the supporters and are an indication of just how desperate this team are to have a goal scorer playing that isn’t a centre back.
While some will claim that Ireland is doing as well as they could hope for on the international stage, all you need to do is look to countries like Wales, Iceland and Northern Ireland, who have achieved far beyond their means. This is thanks mainly to good management, underage structures and a competent football association, most of which has not been achieved with the FAI. We have, however, somehow accidentally stumbled upon what very well could be a golden generation – the likes of which this country has never seen before and all we can hope for is that the FAI stays in existence and people with basic competence are put in place. Saying this, it’s the FAI and basic competence is hard to come by in this association.