A GREAT football man left the field of life this week with the passing of coaching legend Noel O'Reilly in Dublin's Mater Hospital on Friday evening.
A truly remarkable character, Noel was involved in some of the greatest days in Irish football as right hand man to underage supremo Brian Kerr.
A balding eagle if ever there was one, O'Reilly was one of those jovial characters who lived for the game and only for the game.
A man with a perpetual penchant for good humor and a great ear for a song, he was one of those guys who just knew how to get the best out of kids.
That's exactly what he did in Cyprus and in Scotland a decade ago when Kerr's bright young things won the European under-18 and under-16 championship double.
A lot was made at the time of that success, a first for the Irish game, but too often we forget just how much O'Reilly and Kerr achieved in that glorious summer.
They brought together two immensely talented squads and turned that talent into gold, literally into gold medals, against the very best young footballers on offer in Europe.
Some of their players, like Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne from the 18s and John O'Shea and Andy Reid from the 16s, are now household names.
Others like Liam George who were big stars at the time have drifted out of the game altogether, their 15 minutes of fame confined to past glories.
What Kerr and O'Reilly achieved in Cyprus and in Scotland is probably up there with the achievements of Jack Charlton in Germany, Italy and America and Mick McCarthy in Japan and Korea.
Some could argue that their success was even greater simply because Ireland won both those tournaments, and also made it to the last four when they were in charge of the under-20s in Malaysia in 1997.
It is hard to evaluate the performances of an underage team in a senior context so we'll leave that one for another day, but there is no denying the influence O'Reilly and Kerr had on Irish football in those halcyon days.
What's sad here is that their underage achievements made it impossible for the FAI not to give Kerr the senior job when McCarthy quit after the Swiss debacle at Lansdowne Road in 2002.
Kerr was a shoo-in for the job based on his previous record with Irish underage teams, but it was his failure to emulate that success with the seniors that will forever blot his place in our footballing history.
O'Reilly was part of that senior set-up as well and, like his old friend Brian, he found it impossible to say no when the senior coaching job came calling.
In truth both men were always going to find it difficult to get a bunch of pampered Premiership prima donnas to play with the same belief and emotion that was part and parcel of their success with the under-20s, the under-18s and the under-16s, and it is unfair of us all to judge them on their senior achievements or the lack thereof.
Instead O'Reilly's career should be remembered, and fondly at that, for the wonderful job he did with the teams that brought home not one but two European Championships for Ireland.
That is his legacy to Irish football, and a proud legacy it is. May he rest in peace.
Hero Of the Week
ROBBIE Keane is getting a hard time in some quarters for his failure to score a goal since his big money to Liverpool in the summer, but anyone who watched Saturday's Merseyside derby will know how much Keane brought to the Reds table. His all round play was fantastic, and the fact that he was involved in the build-up to both Fernando Torres goals tells you all you need to know about his overall contribution to the cause. Keane will get goals in time, but already he is looking like a Liverpool player and that's all they can ask for.
Idiot Of the Week
MANCHESTER United were awarded a bizarre penalty on Saturday when Jlloyd Samuel of Bolton Wanderers won the ball fairly and squarely off Ronaldo. There was no shout for a peno from any of the United players, Ronaldo included, and even Alex Ferguson admitted afterwards that the decision from referee Rob Styles was a dubious one. Styles at least had the good grace to apologize personally to Bolton for his error, but he's not the guilty partner here just for making a human error. The real culprits are those who run the game. The sooner they introduce video technology in top-flight football the better.
SOCCER: Former Irish international Joe Kinnear has been put in temporary charge of troubled Newcastle United - and has immediately denied claims he is part of a Cockney mafia at the club. Kinnear said, "I am being linked with the Cockney mafia - they forget I was born in Ireland and played for Ireland all my life." No doubt if things go wrong for Joe at St. James's Park some of the club's many Irish fans will be happy to give him back to the Cockneys.
HURLING: The good news is that Galway county board delegates and the Galway senior hurling squad have both voted in favor of the proposal to include their team in the Leinster hurling championships next season. The bad news is that there are still some counties in Leinster against the move. Common sense suggests that hurling needs a major injection of fresh ideas, and this is the best of them so far. Just do it lads.
SOCCER: Stoke City winger Liam Lawrence is a doubt for next week's B game against Nottingham Forest at Dalymount Park - after falling over his dog! Lawrence tripped over the pet as he went down the stairs at his English home and is now rated a major injury doubt for Stoke this week and for a first appearance in the green shirt next week. Bit ruff that. Sorry.
RUGBY: The Irish Rugby Football Union announced a major new strategic plan last week which includes winning the Six Nations and qualifying for the semifinals of the World Cup as two of their aims, which is good to know. At least they're thinking like the fans now, even if both ambitions are a bit on the obvious side.
SOCCER: Fellow Arsenal fans out there are probably still in shock after the mighty Gunners lost 2-1 at home to Hull City of all people on Saturday evening. Just to put it in context, the last time Hull won at Arsenal was in 1915!
SOCCER: Hello to FAI man Gerry McDermott, his wife Yvonne and beautiful daughter Mia who are visiting relations in New York this week. Gerry is one of the good guys in Irish football, so if you see him say hello.
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