‘Moral courage’ is something Johnny Giles sets great store in but there are signs that the doyen of football pundits could do taking some of his own medicine.
The performance of the RTE panel last Wednesday night frankly beggared belief. Or rather, the sixty-somethings sat either side of Ronnie Whelan did. Unfortunately, it seems the former fearsome twosome have started to believe their own publicity and are convinced they can say no wrong.
Dunphy has made a post-playing career out of turning people over, particularly Irish managers (apart from Giles of course). He’s changed tack so many times he doesn’t even know who he’s for and against anymore.
Plus, he’s winging it, relying on wild generalisations (such as Italy’s alleged propensity to implode at home against the likes of Outer Mongolia) instead of basing his arguments on actual research.
The facts are that Ireland left Bari with the first point the world champions have surrendered there for eight years, and very nearly became the only country to beat Italy on Azzurri soil in a decade.
Insults are Dunphy’s stock in trade. But to describe someone of Trapattoni’s stature as “a drunk in a casino” was, apart from the obvious parallels with his own CV, right out of the bottom drawer of thrashy metaphors; ditto his juvenile claim that himself, Gilesy and Ronnie would be able to boss Italy’s midfield even at their stage of decrepitude.
So much for analysis. And RTE’s routine boast about having the best soccer show on the box. It’s reached a stage where Dunphy in particular is not just insulting people, but insulting the audience’s intelligence, not to mention taking liberties with the licence fee.
(Trap may be on €2m per annum but Dunphy, even after his sacrificial 10% salary reduction, still gets paid the guts of €6,000 a week directly out of the taxpayers’ purse; not half from Denis O’Brien’s bank account.)
But whatever about a man whose reliability amounts to one thing – his constant inconsistency – Giles should know better, unless, as is quite possible, he thinks he’s above reproach; something that crossed my mind as he visibly sneered while Ronnie innocently trotted out the old truism that it’s often harder to play against 10 men. (He says he doesn’t believe in lucky managers, but seems to believe in unlucky ones, i.e. himself, and all those cruel mishaps of fate Ireland suffered when he was in charge 30 years ago.)
Being hyper-critical when it’s just not justified, undermines the worth of what Giles has to say when criticism is merited, as it’s often been, such as after the Bulgaria game. The reality is that beforehand no-one, apart from the players and manager, gave Ireland a chance last Wednesday: a forecast based on the team’s past three performances, their depleted resources, and the opposition; even if Dunphy covered his arse in advance by declaring that this was the worst Italian side in donkeys.
The second-minute sending-off – a terrible decision, justifying Dunphy’s swipe at the ever-judgmental George Hamilton that “anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t know what they’re watching” – gave Ireland space to ease their way into the game.
The fact that the home side walked the ball into the Irish net via the hapless Andy Keogh and Paul McShane inside 10 minutes conversely encouraged Italy to revert to type and that suited Ireland, aided by Trapattoni’s familiarity with the opposition’s philosophy, all the more.
Having erred on the side of caution too often, credit where credit’s due. The coach would have been hammered had he sided against any switches. He made three substitutions, and shifted O’Shea onto McShane’s flank – all of which worked, and yet he was derided as a clueless gambler.
Trapattoni recognised Kevin Doyle was out on his feet in midweek (is it a coincidence or just a consequence of his commitment and over-use that the Wexford man’s form seems to taper off after Christmas every year?) and replaced him with the livewire Noel Hunt.
Dunphy deemed this move “lunatic stuff” afterwards, even though Reading’s most recent Irish recruit made life a lot more uncomfortable for Fabio Cannavaro, who, when Doyle was on the pitch, looked far from the spent force of Dunphy’s dubious estimation.
Yet, for all Ireland’s possession and unusually-slick passing, bolstered by the drive Darron Gibson brought to midfield, they only unlocked the Italian defence when they threw the kitchen sink at them in the final five minutes. (And here were some accusing this column of an April Fools’ joke last week when it suggested that Trap might as well go the whole hog and – wait for it – throw Caleb Folan up front, position Robbie Keane deeper and play three across the back.)
Unable to bring themselves to praise the positive, tone-setting moves made by the Irish management, Giles dismissed Folan’s first-half introduction for Keogh, whose confidence was shot, as proof positive that the manager got his selection hopelessly wrong to begin with.
Meaning what? That bringing on subs, other than in the case of injury, is a sign of weakness rather than a means of changing the gameplan? Using that logic managers might as well be redundant.
Not that Giles and Dunphy will ever be, mind. Because no matter what they say, we’ll all be watching next time. And don’t they and their employers know it.