Ireland's UEFA Nations League campaign has finally been brought to a close, and the post-mortem can now begin. For a tournament deemed meaningless by so many, it has had a profound effect on the outlook of Irish football.
Four games, no wins, and no hope for Irish fans. The team comes away with a solitary goal to show for their efforts, a consolation strike from Shaun Williams in Cardiff at a time when they were already four goals behind. Ireland had an average of 33% possession across the four matches, culminating in a 24% effort against the Danes last night.
The players looks lost, without any clear plan. Watching our national team has become a chore, and international breaks are now greeted with dread by the once adoring public. The joy previously associated with supporting the team has long gone, and for the loyal fans who follow the team all over the continent, it is simply not good enough.
All of this has been treated as an afterthought by Martin O'Neill. The Irish manager continues to show an astounding lack of self-awareness when it comes to his performance in his role. He seems at a loss as to how the team can continue to look completely inept in almost all aspects of the game. After the 0-0 hammering at the hands of Northern Ireland, he had this to say:
I would like to have thought we could have found a wee bit more going forward...
It’s not to do with tactics, it is to do with taking the game by the scruff of the neck and having the character to do that.
Many would argue it has everything to do with tactics, because Ireland seem to have none. Having watched the Irish team over the past 12 months, can anyone genuinely see what their plan has been in these games? They cannot keep the ball, as evidenced by the possession stats mentioned earlier. How does O'Neill attempt to combat this? By playing a defender in central midfield.
While he would no doubt like to see more in attack, he has done nothing to address the situation. The team seems happy to have the ball as far away from their own goal as possible, without showing any thought what they will do once they get it there. To say this is down to a lack of character is a cop out.
Having a plan or way of playing can go a hell of a long way. Northern Ireland have one, and they completely outplayed Ireland despite having lesser players. A Wales team without Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey did the same.
O'Neill can lament the lack of quality in the squad, and there is some truth to that, but he has not come close to maximising the resources at his disposal. He consistently brings up the lack of a prolific goalscorer in the squad, but this is not a situation unique to Ireland.
Blaming your attacking woes on the absence of a generational talent such as Robbie Keane does not hold up, and the truth is even Keane would likely struggle in the current set-up.
The simple fact is that Irish fans deserve better. If O'Neill is truly out of ideas, which seems to be the case, he should no longer be in charge. To allow him to continue in this fashion shows a lack of ambition, a lack of vision, and most importantly a lack of respect to the Irish supporters.
The manager continues to suggest that things will turn around when the "big games" in the Euro qualifiers come around in March, but absolutely nothing we have seen suggests this to be the case. We are likely to see more of the same, with the results looking a bit more respectable after fixtures against some minnows in the group.
Could you see a scenario in which the current squad performs any worse? It is certainly hard to envision. A change in manager could change the outlook amongst the players and supporters, a break from the grind that has been the tail-end of the Martin O'Neill era.
The manager should be thanked for his contribution over the last few years, but his time in the role has clearly reached its expiry date. To claim anything else is bordering on lunacy.
In a time when half the teams on the continent qualify for the European Championships, we seem further away than ever before. Something has to change, the FAI must accept that. We need to bring the hope back to Irish football once again.