As the whistle blew for the final time last night and the fans continued to sing, one man in Warsaw couldn’t take it anymore.
While that last blow from referee Pedro Proenca signalled the confirmation that Ireland would not be making it out of the group, in a way there was a sense of relief: the torture which we were forced to endure for the 90 minutes previous had finally ended. Our wounds could start healing, no more would be opened up.
Once David Silva scored Spain’s second, it was all over bar the shouting. Our chance had gone and we would be going home regardless of what happens against Italy on Monday night. Still, the fans continued to sing. Ah yes, our wonderful fans.
The fact that plenty of them won’t be seen again until the next time we qualify for a tournament (‘Friday night’s down in Dayler? Why would I wanna do that, sure they’re rubbish?’) is an argument for another day but nobody can deny that the support was outstanding last night. The noise boomed out from the stands was a credit to the country, the only thing to have done us proud on a desperate night for Irish football.
Why then does the country revolt against one of its greatest ever players for comments he made that basically come to the conclusion that the fans deserve better; something other than a harrowing defeat to sing about?
Roy Keane was right last night. Since when is it a crime to expect better? What’s wrong in wanting the fans to have something worthwhile to sing about? His statements weren’t a jibe at the fans. Far from it. Watch over the video of his comments again.
"They all have to change their mentality. It’s nonsense from players speaking after the games about how great the supporters are. Listen, the supporters want to see the team doing a lot better and not giving daft goals away like that. I’m not too happy with all that nonsense.
"To praise the supporters for sake of it … Let’s change that attitude towards Irish supporters. They want to see the team winning – let’s not kid ourselves, we’re a small country, we’re up against it, but let's not just go along for the sing-song every now and again.”
It’s not the first time we’ve heard it from him either, of course. Keane is a man who knows we can be better than this. Throughout his career, the Corkman has made some questionable comments but on this occasion he was correct.
Claiming these ‘victories’ in the stands just isn’t good enough. In 10 years time, when the continent reflects on the tournament – it’ll be the teams that reach the final we’ll remember, not a sing-song from the fans of a team that were defeated 4-0.
‘We were hammered lads but the craic was mighty,’ is not the right attitude to have. What’s wrong in striving for the best we can be? It’s not enough to celebrate just being there. We’ve been outclassed by the world champions, it’s not a time to rejoice – it’s one to sit back, reflect and think of ways to change the way we play about football.
Just to be clear, this piece is in no way suggesting we should have expected a result against a team that are infinitely technically more superior to us. But the porous defending, the concession of 26 attempts on goal and leaving the opposition string together a record amount of passes is embarrassing. We should at least have competed with Spain.
For too long, shadows were being chased. Our manager, a man perceived to be one of the game’s great tacticians, got it wrong last night. Spain are a special team but there were two glaring mistakes in the gameplan.
First of all, to put Robbie Keane up front on his own was a major error. For all his hard work and leadership, Robbie doesn’t have the mobility to lead the line on his own. Plus, what was the point in firing long balls at a player who is 5ft9?
Secondly, the Spanish midfield were afforded far too much space. For spells, we just left them tap the ball around the pitch at their freewill. Is it any wonder they set a new record for passes completed when they were allowed so much room to spray it about? We needed to perform like Italy did – not sit too deep and hope to get a body in the way when a Spanish attacker bore down on goal.
Ireland should be better than this. I’m no fan of bad losers but being good losers is utter nonsense. Roy was right – the fans deserve better and the start of that is a change of mentality, putting an end to the ‘it’s the taking part that counts’ state of mind which seems to be holding us back.
Alan Smith has been writing for ExtraTime since 2008. He works as a full-time journalist based in Cork, working as a sub-editor for TCM and freelancing for a range of national titles. Follow him on twitter @alansmith90.