Poor Roy Keane told reporters he wanted to kill some of the Republic of Ireland players after they obviously shamed themselves in his native Cork with a 2-1 loss to Belarus, ahead of a tough Euro 2016 task this summer.
With little proven quality in the Ireland ranks beyond Southampton’s Shane Long, Everton pair James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman and LA Galaxy’s Robbie Keane, none of whom could be classed as world beaters, emerging from a group containing Italy, Belgium and Sweden looks beyond Martin O’Neill’s men.
On the bright side, that’s all they’ll have to do to send the loyal Irish fans into rapture, as shown when Mick McCarthy’s men managed as much at World Cup 2002.
Ireland were given a heroes’ welcomes at Dublin’s Phoenix Park on return, England went a stage further and skulked back into town.
After the unfortunate poundings Spain, Italy and Croatia gave the Boys in Green at the last Euros, there’s a few good omens for the first Irish knockout-stage appearance at a major tournament in 14 years.
Having qualified automatically for their first three international tournaments in 1988, 1990 and 1994, Ireland’s three since have come through play-offs, with the road to Japan and South Korea providing a hopeful parallel.
A nervy 1-1 draw in Bosnia and Herzegovina last November was followed by a resounding 2-0 Aviva Stadium victory, while the reverse happened against Iran 14 years ago almost to the day, with a 2-0 win just about protecting the 1-0 loss that followed in Tehran.
The other encouraging omen comes from six months later, when Keane trudged off the pitch to ‘The Fields of Athenry’ after a 2-1 loss to Nigeria just days before the Saipan debacle that would keep him away from international football for almost two years.
Without Keane, an unfancied Ireland side went unbeaten in the group stage, drawing 1-1 with eventual finalists Germany, and were only denied a spot in the quarter finals by Spain on penalties.
Keane is said to have told Sir Alex Ferguson that he was going to the World Cup to win it, but surely Ireland’s dynamic managerial duo would settle for a place in the last 16 of Euro 2016?