Tom English: Scotland could take a leaf out of Ireland’s book

roy Keane can be a joyless individual at times. Compelling, no question. One of the great Irish sportsmen, without doubt, but intense to the point when even his supporters are driven on occasion to say: “Roy, we love you, but give us a bloody break’.”

Keano was giving it the stare after the debacle against Spain, the terrible laceration at the hands of the world champions, a humiliation that was played out against a backdrop of The Fields of Athenry and that most self-mocking chant of You’ll Never Beat the Irish, usually heard when things are their most grim, as in 4-0 down to a Spanish side who would have had more challenging training sessions than anything Giovanni Trapattoni’s boys threw at them on Thursday evening.

Songs were the only defiance Ireland managed on the night, but this kind of thing has always done Keane’s head in. He spent his entire international career fighting that mindset. He never believed that the job was done when qualification for a major championship was achieved because he expected it to happen every time. To him, that was the minimum requirement.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

So it was no surprise that Keane was dismayed at the scenes in Gdansk. Singing and dancing and good times as Ireland were getting rodgered? No, thanks. Huge plaudits from the players to the fans in the aftermath? A cop-out to take attention away from their own failings. Give us an ol’ bar of You’ll Never Beat The Irish, Roy? “It’s time for that song to be put away because, at the moment, everyone is beating them. I’m sick of this ‘win, lose, we’re on the booze’ mentality. It has to change,” he said.

“People seem to have misunderstood me,” he added. “I’ve no problem with fans singing. It’s great that they back the team during and before games but should they really stay on long after the final whistle and be cheering them? There’s a danger that gets the players thinking that what has just happened on the pitch is acceptable when it’s not.”

Keane is out of touch here. Firstly, You’ll Never Beat The Irish is dripping with irony. It’s a song Irish people sing when the odds against them are insurmountably, almost laughably, high. When the All Blacks were pummelling Declan Kidney’s rugby team last Saturday morning I’d wager that, somewhere inside the stadium in Auckland, there were some ex-pat wags singing You’ll Never Beat The Irish as the Blacks were running amok. It’s not a song to be taken seriously, as Keane has done. It’s a piece of fun. A joke.

And, God knows, these supporters are allowed their fun.

They have travelled to the European championship in Tartan Army-esque numbers and have been every bit as barmy and every bit as well received as the Scots would have been had they been there.

The Irish fans sang in Gdansk because the alternative would have been to stay quiet or boo. They didn’t invest fortunes to get there to stay quiet and what was the point in booing when their team was doing its level best against a side that enjoyed a mammoth class advantage?

Keane interpreted that as a return to the bad old days when the Irish fans didn’t care about the result so long as the drink was available in bucketfuls and was flowing freely down their necks. He was wrong. The result mattered to everybody. The post-mortem is proof of that. It’s under way and it’s hot and heavy. Everybody is analysing Ireland’s failure.

In some ways, this is part of Keane’s legacy. Just being at a tournament isn’t good enough anymore, not when you’re losing 3-1 to Croatia and 4-0 to Spain, not when your defence has suddenly metamorphosed from the team’s most solid unit into a comedy act capable of conceding goals in all sorts of stupid ways. Trapattoni is being questioned all over the place. His team selections and formations and tactics, his very ethos about the way the game should be played is being pored over, his terrible reluctance to utilise Sunderland’s James McClean is all part of the autopsy.

Nobody is ignoring it, Roy. Everybody has a different way of dealing with the disappointment.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

As this self-examination is happening in Ireland I think of Scotland and the huge journey that needs to be made.

Before a ball was kicked in the last few qualifying campaigns for World Cups and European championships, there was an acceptance that Scotland wouldn’t get in the shake-up.

There is acceptance again that Scotland will not make the play-offs for the World Cup. They’re in a group with Croatia and Belgium, Wales and Macedonia and Serbia. Forget about it, right? No hope.

The fatalistic attitude is understandable given that it’s been so long since Scotland qualified for a major championship but it’s the kind of thing that Keane helped rid Ireland of in the past.

Look at this current crop of Ireland players and compare them to the Scots. Is there such a difference in quality?

Ireland have gone through 24 games in their last two qualifying campaigns and lost twice. Was that because they have significantly better players than Scotland? Or is it more to do with mindset and management? Frankly, I suspect the latter.

The self-examination in Ireland at the moment is healthy and it’s relevant to Scotland as the beginning of a new qualifying campaign looms in the autumn.

Ireland made it to a major championship and it’s gone badly wrong, but nobody is throwing their arms in the air and saying: “Ah, sure, weren’t we great getting there in the first place.” That would be the easy way out. “We’re not good enough” – end of debate? No.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Scotland could do with a bit more of that attitude. Less of the fatalism. Bemoaning the quality of player available is mere wallowing. It’s a cop-out. It’s an excuse for failure, an excuse for not examining the causes of the failure.

It’s the kind of thing Ireland did before Trapattoni arrived. “We’re crap and we know we are” soon gave way to “We’re better than we thought we were”.

If Scotland’s players are inferior to Ireland’s players, then there are only small margins in the difference and yet there is a gulf in the mindset of the two nations.

Craig Levein is charged with changing that and, as bad as it has been for Ireland in the Euros, he could learn something from the fact that they’re there and that they’re pissed off they’re not doing better.