Ireland’s Euro 2020 Campaign

Photo of Fabian Schar courtesy of Wiki Commons.

By David Prendeville

Ireland remain unbeaten, heading into the closing three fixtures of their Euro 2020 qualifying group, after snatching a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in the Aviva last month.

They’re sitting on top of the table, two points ahead of Denmark and three ahead of Switzerland, albeit the Swiss have a game less played.

It has to be said, though, that Ireland’s remaining three fixtures look extremely tough. First they face Georgia away on the 12th of October. Ireland, while playing some decent stuff on the night, were only able to beat the Georgians 1-0 at the Aviva. Denmark also recently slipped up in Tbilisi, only managing a 0-0 draw. This has the makings of an extremely tricky away tie for Ireland.

The boys in green then travel to the Stade de Genève to face the Swiss on October 15th. We conclude the group at home to Denmark in the Aviva on the 18th of November. Bearing in mind how our last game against them in the Aviva turned out, we know how difficult that game will be, albeit the Danes haven’t been at their best of late. 

There has been plenty of praise for Ireland’s recent exploits and obviously being top of the table with three games to go can’t be said to be a bad thing. However, one can’t shake the feeling that Ireland are still big underdogs to get through, based on the fixtures they have remaining.

Failure to qualify would, of course, be all the more disappointing considering some of the Euro 2020 games will be held in the Aviva. Pundits seemed in general pleased with the recent draw against Switzerland and I can’t help wonder if this is just down to Mick McCarthy saying he’d be happy with a draw before the game.

Switzerland’s team are undoubtedly superior to Ireland, but realistically, I can’t see how, if we want to qualify from the group, we could’ve aimed for anything other than a win against them at home, when we still have to play them away. Switzerland were also missing Xherdan Shaqiri, their most potent attacking threat for the trip to the Aviva. It remains to be seen if he’ll be present for the reverse fixture, as it seems there are some behind-the-scenes issues surrounding his absence. 

Ireland’s performance in that game was admirable in its grit and determination. David McGoldrick has had a fine start to life with Sheffield United in the Premier League this season and it was great to see him get his first international goal. Likewise his team-mate for both club and country Callum Robinson brought his recent good form into the game and looked lively.

It would also have been easy for the players to let their heads drop after going behind to Fabian Schar’s superb opener. Instead, they showed excellent spirit and everyone was certainly in no doubt that they gave everything for the cause. Whether spirit alone will be enough to power this Ireland team through these next three games and into the European Championships in 2020 remains to be seen. I have my doubts, but I hope I am proven wrong. 

An area in which there has been real excitement for Irish football recently has been at under 21 level, where we recently saw off Armenia and Sweden impressively in qualifiers. Spurs’ Troy Parrott continues to make the headlines scoring the winner in Dublin against Armenia and then grabbing two after he came off the bench in Sweden.

Elsewhere Brighton’s Aaron Connolly also caught the eye. The 19-year-old Galway man recently made his first senior start for the Brighton first team and scored in their Carling Cup win over Crawley Town.

The U-21 squad in general  looks to have plenty of exciting prospects running through it, from the highly-rated Lee O’Connor, who recently moved from Manchester United to Celtic, and who should have better prospects of first team football there, to West Ham’s cultured midfielder Conor Coventry. There seems to be a lot of talent coming through for the first time in a long while. 

I’ve been critical of McCarthy not picking youth previously and I stand by that, but criticism of him not drafting up some of the U-21 squad for the friendly against Bulgaria that followed the Switzerland game is misguided in this instance. This is considering the U-21s were in action in a competitive game. By drafting them into the senior squad, he would have been denying Stephen Kenny some of his biggest players and hindered his team’s chances of qualifying. 

In other Irish football news Niall Quinn turned down the opportunity to be considered for a place on the board of the FAI, as reported in the Irish Times, due to him being unsatisfied with the levels of reform that have taken place within the board. That sorry story seems to have no end in sight and it remains to be seen  how many new lows it can sink to.

In better, local news, it was also revealed last month, as reported in Dublin Live, that Merrion Square was set to become a month-long football village for UEFA’s Euro 2020 plans.