Posts Tagged ‘Trapattoni|World Cup|FAI|League of Ireland|soccer’

Another year has begun, although before we go any further and commit to resolutions it is an apt time to look back on 2009 to see what went right, but more importantly why things went wrong.

From the near miss of World Cup qualification to the high of re-establishing Ireland as a force to be reckoned with on the international stage, it was a memorable twelve month period for Giovanni Trapattoni's team.

Behind the scenes, things didn't flow so smoothly for the FAI as ticket sales for the Aviva Stadium failed to take off, funding for Abbotstown was stalled, and the Fifa debacle went too far.

Closer to home, the League of Ireland campaign took many disastrous turns with financial mishandling almost bringing about the end of both Cork City and Derry City, while the Premier Division title race was one of the most exciting in years.

Trap is the chosen one

I don't think that Irish fans have any reason to fear about Trapattoni walking away from his role despite suggestions that Turkey (along with a few other teams) are preparing generous offers for him. He has unfinished business with The Boys In Green.

While I was wary at first when he took over as Ireland manager due to his age and whether he could turn things around for a team that had been thumped by Cyprus in their last qualifying campaign. But my suspicions quickly faded as he introduced professionalism, confidence and some of his own style to help elevate the team to a level where they went through Group 8 unbeaten.

That achievement in itself is something for Irish fans to marvel at - unbeaten in qualifying. Okay, Italy were not the force they once were, Bulgaria and Georgia failed to really challenge, Montenegro struggled to find consistency, and Cyprus were the same average team they had been in previous years. Still, the facts don't lie......0 defeats, 8 goals conceded from 10 games, 2nd place in the group.

It was clear that Ireland grew as a team as qualifying went on with their finest nights coming against France in the Play-Offs. There's no need to go over the Henry incident again, but the performance produced by Ireland that night suggested that Trapattoni's system had finally clicked into place. If he can now introduce some new players to the set-up then there is every reason for expectations to rise for the 2012 European Championship qualifiers.

New kids on the block

Every international manager will ultimately be judged on results. Yet it is always interesting to look back on players that they used during their stint in charge; or more importantly, the players that they did not use.

For Trapattoni, he was aware that some fresh blood was needed, so he set up a training camp to see who was worth sticking with. Some impressed, some did not. But what he has continually done since taking charge is to search for new options.

In 2009, he introduced players like Kieren Westwood, Kevin Foley, Sean St Ledger, Eddie Nolan, Liam Lawrence, Glenn Whelan, Keith Andrews, Leon Best, all of whom should go on to win many more caps at senior level.

But there is always room for improvement and the class of 2010 needs to be good enough to add something extra to the Irish squad. It is important that he finds at least three new recruits or successfully brings back some of those that have slipped down the pecking order.

Marching to a different tune

Cut-backs have been made, some of the best players have moved on, yet there is still hope that the League of Ireland can once again emerge as a league that Irish football fans are proud to support. It still has a long way to go, but this year could help repair its battered reputation.

The best way to convince non-believers that the domestic game is worth paying attention to is by bringing in consistency. If the clubs can consistently keep up with the demands of keeping their affairs in order, connecting with their local communities, improving their squads, coaching and facilities, then the hope of getting big crowds into the grounds will no longer seem like just a pipe dream.

Success off the pitch is just as important, although the product on the pitch is what wins people over. Bohemians have been excellent over the past two seasons, while Shamrock Rovers suggested that they are back to challenge. Add into that mix the likes of Sporting Fingal, Sligo Rovers and maybe even reignited versions of Cork City, Drogheda United, Dundalk & St Patrick's Athletic and you have a Premier Division that is sure to be highly competitive.

Europe should play a big part in getting more people interested with Bohs, Rovers, Cork and Sporting all set to compete on foreign soil over the coming months. If any of them were able to reach the group stages of either the Uefa Champions League or the Europa League then it would be a massive leap forward for the league as a whole.

Tighter restrictions from the FAI should ensure that clubs don't get away with the type of tomfoolery that was ignored last term, but hopefully the focus will stay on the pitch for the most part as the bright hopes of a new year fill us with optimism for what could be achieved in Irish football in 2010.

Ah, that almost year

Overall, 2009 was a bittersweet year as World Cup qualification slipped away at a time when Trapattoni finally won over his critics (well most of them) and the joys of the domestic game were overshadowed by the near extinction of two of its biggest clubs.

On the report card it should read: Making noticeable improvements. Better results are not too far away. Must stay focused on prime objectives and not try to cut corners. Potential must now be realised.
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