'Play Three At The Back, It Makes No Sense' - Jenas Perplexed By Ireland Selection

'Play Three At The Back, It Makes No Sense' - Jenas Perplexed By Ireland Selection

On this island, we can be stuck in somewhat of a bubble when it comes to our international football team. We all have strong opinions and a vision of what of an Ireland team should be, but can this cloud our judgement as to what is actually achievable at the top level?

Sometimes, it can be interesting to see what those who are less invested in the team think.

In his role as a pundit for the BBC and BT Sport, Jermaine Jenas sees about as much of Ireland's players as almost anybody else. Still, he rarely thinks about their performances in an international context.

Speaking to Balls, he said he had a certain idea of what an Ireland team should be, but it is something that they haven't lived up to in recent years:

I think for a while there it kind of fell off and I couldn’t work out why. I always looked at Ireland as a place that no team wanted to go there and play, because you knew what you were up against.

You were up against a team that didn’t know when they were beaten. A team that maybe didn't have the quality of certain other teams, but the heart, the spirit, the fight, added with those little sparkles of quality that you had.

In my era you had top players. People like Keano (Robbie Keane), Damien Duff, John O’Shea, Richard Dunne, Shay Given, Roy Keane.

It is difficult to argue with that assessment.


Ireland had certainly stagnated towards the end of the Martin O'Neill era, playing like a team who lacked direction. It was difficult to watch them play and actually decipher what their plan on the pitch was. It was also obvious that the players mentioned above had not been replaced.

Has the tide turned somewhat? While the football played under Mick McCarthy has not been scintillating, it has been an improvement on the previous tenure. We have also integrated the likes of Enda Stevens, John Egan, Callum Robinson, and Matt Doherty.

Then you have the players who are not yet established at senior level. Stephen Kenny's U21 side looks to be a supremely talented one, with the likes of Troy Parrott, Adam Idah, and Jayson Molumby looking set to have a bright future in the game.

Looking on, Jenas has noticed a bit of a resurgence. However, like many in this country, he is a bit confused when it comes to the Seamus Coleman versus Matt Doherty debate.

Mick McCarthy has been hesitant to put both in the team, abandoning that particular experiment after the opening game of the campaign. However, Jenas sees a simple solution, one many will agree with:

Play three at the back! Play Coleman at the right of the back three and play Doherty where he plays already. You’ve got to have them both playing.

When I watch Doherty playing anyway, he’s probably one of the best right backs in the league. He could play right back or right wingback. He does things for Wolves that still shock me, in terms of his type of play.

In Seamus Coleman you’ve got somebody who you know what you’re getting out of him every week. He’s been a leader and he’s been around the team for a long time.

It’s difficult for them to figure it out, but you’ve got to find a way to get them both in there. If that’s a three at the back, and getting Doherty where he wants to play anyway, then so be it.


We would remind the former England international that opting for that particular system would not only benefit Coleman and Doherty. Enda Stevens, John Egan, Shane Duffy, and Ciaran Clark all play that formation at club level.

"It makes no sense when you say it like that," he replied.

"All those players play in a back five? It’s ridiculous. Enda Stevens is a top player. I’ve been trying to get him to go to Spurs to be honest, I like him a lot. I forgot that he even played for Ireland.

"It makes no sense that they don’t play three at the back at all."

One person who could influence this decision is Robbie Keane. Jenas' former teammate is a coach under Mick McCarthy, while also acting as Jonathan Woodgate's assistant at Middlesbrough.

The pair were together at Spurs for over half a decade, with the midfielder rating Keane as the best striker he ever played with. He also sees big things in his future:

I’d say Keano is the best striker that I played with, in terms of the whole package and the relationship I had with the striker.

Me and Keane had a telepathic understanding of where each other was on the pitch. He used to give me these little looks that I knew what they meant but nobody else did. The amount of times he set me up and I set him up.

In terms of arguments in the dressing room after games, me and him used to always get into it because we just loved winning, we always wanted to win...

It’s only a matter of time really before he’s in the hot seat for Ireland. He’s plying his trade along with Mick, who’s probably guiding him.

If I know Keano the way I do, he will watch the crop get to the right place and he will get himself into that seat and enjoy himself. As he deserves, because his numbers are astonishing at international level.

Coca-Cola ambassador Jermaine Jenas was in Dublin speaking about their sponsorship of the Premier League and the ‘Where Everyone Plays’ campaign.

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Gary Connaughton

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