Ireland's stock is in decline

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It is a little over twenty years now since the Republic of Ireland graced the heights of sixth place in the FIFA World rankings. From December 1992 until August 1993 Ireland were ranked as a genuinely feared nation in world football.


That spell saw the highest ever ranking by an Irish team, coming just as they were preparing to jet off for USA 1994. Jack's Army was in its pomp and 'You'll Never Beat The Irish' rang true. Now, though, the Republic of Ireland is at its lowest ever point in the rankings, sitting at 59th, sandwiched by Korea and Slovakia.


The mighty have fallen alright...


That there was a tinge of relief in the air when Robbie Keane scored the 17th minute penalty that levelled Tuesday night’s game showed how low Irish stock has fallen.


Four minutes earlier, with Ireland all over the place at the back, Dmitriy Shomko delivered a stunning opener past David Forde following a mis-cued clearance from Seamus Coleman. It was a marvellous goal from Shomko in only his fourth cap. Ordinarily, the gasps from the Irish crowd would have been audible.


The tumbleweed had already rolled here, though. The official attendance of 21,700 seemed ambitious given the swathes of empty seats, some entire sections even, that pockmarked the ground. Plainly, the ground with a capacity of 51,700 was not 42 per cent full.


The new manager should look to the small print in the job description, for placing bums back on the seats of this deserted stadium will be part of a remit that will come with a job that has many difficulties. 


The cash-strapped FAI, simply, cannot afford to oversee another campaign this wretched, where its fate has been sealed long before its conclusion.


Ireland have two friendlies in November, at home to Hungary and away to Poland, and it seems likely that the new man will be in situ by then. At the same time as those friendlies the World Cup Qualification play-offs will be taking place.


Noel King's interim tenure will not go down as memorable, but then again it was never going to be easy for anyone to step into the breach. Still, the Dubliner had a duty to win tonight, if only to help ensure that Ireland will be second seeds by the time the 2016 European Championship Qualifying draw is conducted in February.


So, Keane's penalty - after Alexander Kislitsyn's handball - was not so irrelevant. Nor was the 26th minute strike of John O'Shea, hammering home after Richard Dunne's header was flapped at by Andrey Sidelnikov, It was only the second goal the Sunderland man has scored in 93 caps and it came fully ten years after his previous strike in a friendly against Australia.


Even then it was not plain sailing, not until Shomko put through his own goal in the 78th minute with sub Igor Yurin having fired a warning shot across Forde's bows a little earlier.


It all means that Ireland will now be second seeds in the draw, provided Romania do not win both legs of their play-off next month (Romania will be in the unseeded pot for that one). It was about the only straw to grab tonight.


Prospective bosses were likely to be viewing tonight;s events with interest, some having already had talks, and others, perhaps, pondering on whether to send a CV around Abbotstown way. The job of Trapattoni's successor is going to be one that will be demanding from the off.


In recalling to the squad and giving game time to Andy Reid, Kevin Doyle, Anthony Stokes and Darron Gibson, King has at least mended some of the bridges that had been torched at various junctures in the Trapattoni era. But that is perhaps to gloss over some issues that are glaring.


With the next campaign in mind it is worth noting that six of tonight's starters will be the 'wrong side' of 30 when the next campaign rolls around: Forde, Dunne, O'Shea, Keane, Reid and Doyle.


In truth, this was a campaign never had much life about it.


Sure, there will be those who will point to David Alaba's late equaliser that stunned Ireland back in March. Alaba levelled for Austria in the two-all draw here, on the night when the cliff face began to look prohibitive for the Irish.


It was also a strike by Alaba that ended the reign of Giovanni Trapattoni last month, his goal being the separator in Vienna, but the warning signs had long since been posted.

Wind the memory back to last autumn when Ireland headed for Astana to begin the qualifying campaign against Kazakhstan, nursing a serious Euro 2012 hangover. 


Kairat Nurdauletov headed Kazakhstan ahead and it wasn't until Keane's penalty leveled it in the 89th minute that Ireland were rescued. Kevin Doyle won the penalty and scored a then scored a late winner to save total embarrassment.


This, to recap, against a country ranked between Afghanistan and Cyprus, resting in 132nd position in the rankings table.


Ireland's calling card now appears to be staggering over the line against opponents that would be obliging to some of the more refined nations. For Ireland, the gap between now and those days of being ranked sixth in the world is growing in more ways than one.


Officially, in terms of the ranking of its senior team, Irish football is at an all-time low, having plummeted fifteen places last month. That in itself should be enough to turn the calls for changes into action. 


Real action that is - from the troubled grassroots to the showpiece side that is the senior international team and, in between, taking in a domestic league that has a team in a promotion play-off this week which will be extinct regardless of the result.