Gareth Maher


It may be some time since Irish football popped up on the global radar, but the beautiful game is not only alive and well in Ireland, it is currently on something of an upward curve.

Often overshadowed by their neighbours in the United Kingdom, the struggle to keep fans focused on Irish football rather than just following the English Premier League or the Scottish Premier League is an ongoing one.

However, the tide has been changing in recent times and the good work that the FAI (Football Association of Ireland) have been doing is starting to pay off.

Ireland have qualified for three World Cups in their history and are now hoping to make that four by booking a place in South Africa for next summer. With a new manager in charge there is a positive atmosphere with the players, the fans, and the media.

Giovanni Trapattoni was appointed as manager of the national team in May of last year and has helped to turn things around. The 70-year-old Italian inherited a team low on confidence, missing some new players, and struggling to pick up results against teams that they had beaten in the past. Put simply, the national team was a mess.

Blame can be attributed to the two previous managers, Steve Staunton and Brian Kerr, but Trapattoni believed that Ireland had everything that was needed to launch a successful qualifying campaign – they just needed to be re-focused.

And re-focus is exactly what he did. Marco Tardelli and Liam Brady came on board as his assistants, new players were introduced to the squad, other players were given new positions, and a professional approach was taken towards everything.

The result? Well, at the time of writing, Ireland sit second in Group 8 behind leaders Italy. They are unbeaten in six qualifying matches and in a fantastic position to qualify for the World Cup.

“The new manager has helped to change a lot of things since coming in. Everything is more professional and the players respond to that,” said Kevin Kilbane, who is closing in on 100 caps for Ireland.

“There is definitely a more upbeat mood in training and the players like meeting up for squads. We feel that we have a chance of winning each game that we play and that probably wasn’t there before.”

There are also positive strides being made in the domestic game with the League of Ireland now boasting a more competitive and highly skilled three-tier system that is improving all of the time.

Drogheda United came close to beating Dynamo Kyiv in last year’s UEFA Champions League qualifiers, while St Patrick’s Athletic were unlucky to lose to Hertha Berlin in their UEFA Cup qualifier. It says a lot about how well the Irish clubs did when one considers that both Dynamo and Hertha have gone on to enjoy terrific seasons.

This year will see Bohemians try their luck at reaching the Champions League group stages, while St Patrick’s Athletic, Derry City, and Sligo Rovers go for the Europa League. Each of those four teams will be better equipped to deal with those European fixtures and will have learnt why the other teams fell down last year.

While there is still a need to upgrade most of the stadiums, to get clubs more used to balancing their books, and to attract new fans to the games, the FAI are doing a fine job in helping the League of Ireland to grow and develop.

Irish football is certainly on the rise and it will be a massive achievement if the national team do make it out of Group 8, but this is just the beginning of a long process that aims to keep Ireland competing for a place in all major competitions.


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