For anyone who grew up during the 1990s watching the Irish national team, it must have seemed like they belonged at the top table of international competition. Unlucky not to make the semi-finals at Euro ‘88, they then qualified for two World Cups on the bounce, and racked up some significant scalps on their way. At the beginning of the new millennium, there they were again, one penalty shoot-out away from a quarter-final berth. For a good 14 years, Irish football seemed to fit in with the bigger, richer nations, qualifying for the big competitions more often than not.
In the intervening 20 years since that shoot-out loss to Spain in Suwon, Ireland have been back to the Euros twice. At Euro 2016 they even led the hosts, France, in the Round of 16 before being eliminated. But let’s be honest, it’s been slim pickings for Irish men’s football and for Irish football betting in general. Why has there been so little to celebrate, and is there a chance that the good times will return in time for Germany in 2024?
Not every generation is going to be golden
A look at the squad that represented Ireland in 1990 shows you where the players were playing their club football. Three players were selected from the Liverpool side that had just won a record 18th English title. Others came from Arsenal, Aston Villa and even Real Sociedad. In 1994, you could add Roy Keane and Denis Irwin from Manchester United, among others. These were players playing at the top of the game, and in recent years that pedigree has been hard to find. From the most recent squad, only Caomhin Kelleher plies his trade in the Premier League, and that’s as backup to Allison at Liverpool.
The Nations League won’t do us any favours
A generally positive showing in the World Cup qualifying group – after the ignominious loss to Luxembourg in Dublin, of course – had people hoping that a corner had been turned. Trips to Azerbaijan and Luxembourg ended in one-sided wins, wrapped around a home 0-0 draw with Portugal. So the average Irish football bettor will have looked at a Nations League group shared with Ukraine, Scotland and Armenia, and thought “that’s winnable”. Had they backed that thought with cash, they’d be looking at a bet that is on life support right now.
A loss in Armenia, and another at home to Ukraine, means Ireland need a ridiculous sequence of results to take the available Euro 2024 playoff spot. And not the kind of ridiculous that we seem to specialise in, unfortunately.
Is it time to see off Stephen Kenny?
When Ireland appointed Mick McCarthy after the humiliating loss to Denmark in the playoffs for Russia 2018, it was with a view to setting things up for Stephen Kenny to take over armed with his knowledge of the younger generation of Irish players. Kenny’s initial showing was poor, taking 12 games and a visit to Andorra to get his first win – and that only came after Andorra had taken a 52nd-minute lead. Since then, there have been highs, including taking a lead into the closing minutes in Lisbon (before two heartbreaking late goals from you-know-who). There have also, obviously, been lows.
So is it time to part company with Kenny? Most Irish fans will give a tentative reply to that question: yes, his win percentage is atrocious, sitting at 22%. But on the other hand, there are signs of progress, which would be ripped up if they replaced the current manager with someone tasked to win now. And who would that be? Big names aren’t exactly queuing up to do the job. So, for the moment, let’s see who Ireland draw in the qualifying for 2024, and give this setup one more chance to do something special.