Make or break for Irish teams
While I did see Ireland’s Rugby World Cup game against Samoa last Saturday I was mercifully spared having to sit through the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Tbilisi later that afternoon. From what I heard, RTÉ Sport producers probably drew straws to see who would have the dubious honour of compiling the ‘highlights’.
On Tuesday night, Ireland weren’t much better against a decent Switzerland team. No surprises there really…
It means that Mick McCarthy’s men now face a winner-takes-all match against Denmark at the Aviva in November. As we know, that has gone very well in the past!
Meanwhile, the rugby team have their own do-or-die match this Saturday against the mighty All Blacks. Joe Schmidt’s charges have been pretty uninspiring in the past twelve months and much like the soccer team, have even struggled with the basics recently. There has been little evidence at this World Cup to suggest they’ll overcome the best team in the world this weekend to reach the semi-finals for the very first time.
So, are Irish teams under-performing or have we set our expectations too high? In my opinion it’s a little of both.
Firstly, the soccer team regularly finds itself as third seeds, which is an accurate reflection of where we are at the moment. I say ‘at the moment’ because there’s no guarantee teams like Georgia won’t overtake us in years to come. They have a similar population and while they also play rugby and basketball, soccer is their number one sport. They also proved once again on Saturday that they can produce technically accomplished players at senior international level.
Our rivals for qualification, Denmark and Switzerland, meanwhile, have already proven they are better footballing countries with better players. And while that’s no excuse for some of our players not to be able to pass a football, we are third if not joint-fourth best team in our group and have no reasonable right to expect to qualify.
As for the rugby, we have a poor record against the likes of Argentina, Wales and France at the World Cup. Ireland has never reached a semi-final and currently isn’t even the second best team in the Northern Hemisphere.
In short, Joe Schmidt will need a minor miracle if Ireland are to advance this Saturday. As for winning World Cups, a semi-final place is far more realistic but should never be expected based on past performances.