The long-term future of Irish football is looking uncertain to say the least. Under Martin O'Neill, the team are floundering, yet to win a competitive game in 2018. There is a lack of young talent emerging at the moment, while the team is looking likely to be relegated to Division 'C' of the UEFA Nations League. Martin O'Neill is under massive pressure, and all of this has contributed to what is perhaps the most pessimistic outlook surrounding the Irish team in recent memory.
While Irish fans are not optimistic about the future, how does Football Manager 2019 rate the team? In order to see what the future of this Irish team holds, we have simmed up until after the 2026 World Cup. Would Martin O'Neill manage to turn the team's fortunes around? Can we qualify for a first World Cup since 2002? Will any outstanding Irish talents emerge?
According to the game, there are definitely some surprises in store over the next eight years.
First of all, Ireland failed to qualify for Euro 2020. Shock I know. Only Ireland could fail to qualify for a tournament in which they are a host, historic stuff.
Having overcome the odds to finish second in our UEFA Nations League group behind those pesky Danes, the team limped to a third place finish in their Euro 2020 qualifying group.
The team had a rocky start, with a 2-1 loss away in Sweden to open the campaign. They recovered brilliantly however, with a famous 2-1 victory over Spain at a rocking Aviva Stadium. Ireland went on to win another three games, and looked in a great position to qualify with Sweden at home to come.
They then proceeded to bottle it. They lost at home to Sweden, away at Spain, drawing with Albania in the final game. Ball burst.
There would be another opportunity to qualify however, via the Nations League play-offs.
After beating Turkey 2-1 in the semi-final, a date with Russia awaited. Ireland once again fell at the final hurdle. To compound the misery, Declan Rice also declares for England and makes his debut in 2019. We never wanted him anyway.
Despite the disastrous campaign and calls for his head amongst the support, Martin O'Neill keeps his job, because he is good.
2022 World Cup
After coming so close to a place at Euro 2020, fans were optimistic for World Cup qualifying campaign. Their optimism was misplaced.
Despite finishing second in their qualifying group, Ireland did not get a place in Qatar. A new qualifying system granted the three best second placed teams a spot in the tournament. Ireland ranked sixth of the 10 teams.
Despite another fruitless campaign, Martin O'Neill STILL keeps his job. At this stage it seems the only things that will be left after a nuclear war are the cockroaches and O'Neill as Ireland manager.
The only plus of the campaign was the emergence of Troy Parrot onto the international scene. Having made a handful of appearances for Tottenham, he lights it up on loan at Sheffield United, scoring 21 goals and registering 13 assists. He was also in blistering form for his country, registering a remarkable 10 goals in his first 13 caps.
Jordan Graham has also established himself as a key member of the squad. Currently at Ipswich, he declares for the Boys in Green in 2018. He scores 11 goals in his first 26 appearances.
Amongst other members of the squad, Caoimhin Kelleher has yet to make an appearance for Liverpool.
With Martin O'Neill still refusing to pick him, Matt Doherty leaves Wolves in a £8.5m move to Rangers. Shane Long meanwhile took his non-goalscoring talents to Genoa, while James Mccarthy finally made his dream move to Korea.
Seamus Coleman remains as captain, with Shane Duffy his deputy.
Another granny rule player, current Exeter goalkeeper Christy Pym, has established himself as the number one.
Martin O'Neill entered the Euro 2024 qualifiers under immense pressure. Having failed to qualify for three major tournaments in a row (and probably averaging around 32% possession during that time), more failure here would surely mean the end of his tenure.
Things did not start great. Relegated from Division B in 2020, Ireland finished in second place in their Division C UEFA Nations League group behind Sweden, but ahead of the mighty Finland and Latvia.
Next up was the Euro 2024 qualifying group, and it was not pretty. We were once again placed alongside Spain, who were in no mood to hand out sympathy results this time around.
Ireland would finish fourth in their five team group, picking up a miserly five points from eight games. They only had one win, a dead rubber home victory over Hungary in the final game. Five goals in the eight games sounds about right too.
However Ireland would yet another opportunity to qualify via the Nations League play-offs. It seems like it's harder not to qualify for the Euros at this stage. They fell at the first hurdle however, losing to Switzerland in the semi-final.
Ireland miss out on a major tournament once again.
After four failed campaigns in a row, the FAI finally had enough. Martin O'Neill had to go, pay-off or no pay-off. The team had dipped to 55th in the world rankings, and optimism was at an all-time low. They needed to push the boat out and get a big name in, someone to excite the fans.
The FAI appointed... Damien Duff. Good man Duffer.
Duff had cut his teeth with the Ireland u21 team for five years, and was promoted to the top job. In order to maintain a bit of stability from O'Neill's wonderful tenure, Roy Keane is kept on as assistant manager. This is the squad they will have to work with:
Troy Parrot has established himself as the key player on the team, netting 15 goals in 20 appearances for Ireland. He still has not established himself as a regular for Spurs however. Southampton's Michael Obafemi is another important player in the squad.
Dan Crowley finally declares for Ireland in 2023.
Matt Doherty won a whopping 12 caps in eight years under Martin O'Neill, and you need to ask yourself, would you bet against that happening in real life?
With a 48 team World Cup on the horizon in 2026, Ireland will be looking to qualify for their first major tournament in 10 years.
2026 World Cup
Damien Duff needed to work a miracle to get this Ireland team to the 2026 World Cup, and he nearly did it. They came so close, missing out on qualification via goal difference.
It was ultimately a 1-0 loss in the second last game away in Serbia that cost them their place in the tournament.
This campaign really marked the start of a new era for the Irish team. It was Duff's first in charge, and the team displayed a marked improvements in results. This was the closest they had come to qualifying in years.
Seamus Coleman finally retired at the end of the qualifiers, meaning a new captain had to be appointed. Duff went with Lee O'Connor, who is currently a youth player at Manchester United in real life. This one was a strange appointment to say the least.
Yes that's right. The new captain of Ireland has made 49 top division appearance in a 10 year career. Christ.
It's not all bad though. Troy Parrot has continued his phenomenal form for his country, now boasting a record of 26 goals in 33 appearances. Still only 24-years old, he could well go on to break Robbie Keane's scoring record.
Ryan Cassidy has also emerged as an excellent option up front, finding the back of the net 11 times in 19 caps. He's the most valuable Irish player, with a market value of £32million.
Gavin Bazunu has finally established himself as Ireland's number one. Also 24-years old, he is still at Manchester City despite only making 12 appearance for the first team. He still has time to develop into the world class goalkeeper many hoped he would become.
Things are looking up a bit ahead of Euro 2028.
So how does the future of Irish football look? Not great.
According to Football Manager 2019, we are set for a very dour few years. There will not be much to shout about, and you may as well get used to Martin O'Neill's brand of football. The man will be here until 2024.
We do have some reasons to be optimistic however. Damien Duff is set to become one of the most exciting managers in Europe, rejuvenating Irish football. Troy Parrot is going to be one of the best Irish players of all time, and Ryan Cassidy will exceed everybody's expectations.
Things don't look too bad in 2026, we just need to suffer through eight years of shite first.