THE first rule of punditry is to form a sound opinion, then deliver it.
The unwritten rule -- or so it seems as the dust settles on Ireland’s disastrous European Championship campaign -- is to divide a nation.
Eamon Dunphy has been doing that for years. With a mind that changes as frequently as the Irish weather, the former footballer has captured the market in controversy for himself for more years than I care to remember.
Now, however, as the Irish players and management go off on their summer holidays after ruining the vacation plans of thousands of Ireland fans in Poland these past two weeks, there’s a new contender in town for Dunphy’s role as pundit supreme.
And you know, Roy Keane is making a real go of it when everyone from Dunphy himself to the Irish fans suffering on the terraces in Poznan decide to have a go at our one-time captain simply because he has spoken -- and written -- his mind.
Roy, in case you didn’t know, has been headline news for the past week or so in Ireland.
Ever since the 4-0 capitulation against Spain in the second of our Group C matches at the Euro finals, he has been telling it like he sees it, on the pages of the Irish Sun newspaper (where I now work by the way, just so you know) and on the ITV television network in Britain.
Roy -- and this is something we share -- hasn’t been impressed by what he has seen from Team Ireland on the football pitch in Poznan and Gdansk.
Three defeats -- 3-1 to Croatia, 4-0 to Spain and 2-0 to Italy -- have had those of us who care about Irish football pulling our hair out in exasperation.
The manager’s performance, as he refused to make real changes and constantly blamed our shortcomings on his players and not on himself, has done little to remove the theory that we will not be happy campers if the FAI allow Giovanni Trapattoni to see out the two years left on his contract.
Keane hasn’t gone so far, not yet anyway, as to question Trapattoni’s future eligibility to remain in charge of Ireland, not even when the manager decided to curse in response to some of his remarks and ask Italian journalists in his native tongue, “What the f*** has he ever won as a coach?”
What Roy has done -- and rightly so if you want to know my opinion -- is question the performance of the team on the field, against Croatia and Spain particularly, and the decisions made on the sidelines.
When asked how many Irish players he would have dropped for the final group game against Italy on Monday night, Keane replied, “All of them.”
He went on to say that pride should be a given when any Ireland team plays, and suggested that the manager had to make changes to give us any hope for the future and the World Cup campaign about to begin.
Trap ignored Roy’s advice, of course. He made one change for the Italy game -- going back to the side that lost so badly to Croatia -- and Ireland, for all the better spirit and effort, were easily beaten 2-0 by the Italians in Poznan.
By then the Irish fans had also turned their attentions -- and their ire -- on one Roy Keane after he suggested it was time to dismiss the “win or lose, we go on the booze” mentality he had witnessed first hand in Poland.
Naturally enough the fans, who had paid thousands for the privilege of following their team in hope and expectation, took exception to Roy’s perception of them.
Nor did they like his suggestion that they should stop singing, that they should not celebrate failure as they had done in the final minutes of the Spanish inquisition when the “Fields of Athenry” filled the stadium and television screens all across Europe.
Their desire to enjoy the Euro experience -- no matter how badly their team were playing in front of their very own eyes -- meant his Royness was public enemy number one on Monday night.
They let him know it too, singing with a vengeance and with a chorus that suggested he should f*** off with his views on their choice of match entertainment.
All of which made for plenty of headlines -- one of the requirements for any pundit worth his or her salt.
Alas, however, the criticism of the “win or lose, we’re on the booze mentality” offered up by Roy served only to dilute his more pertinent remarks about the current state of Irish football.
He may not, as Trapattoni suggested, have won much as a manager, but then again Trap won sod all in Poland these past two weeks.
Sure he got us to the finals and he filled our heads with expectations, but he failed, spectacularly, to deliver on the big stage with his antiquated tactics and outlook.
If his name was Staunton or Kerr -- as Roy Keane suggested on ITV -- he’d have been pilloried from pillar to post and we’d be looking for a new manager by now.
I don’t agree about the fans -- they pay their money and are entitled to enjoy themselves as they see fit -- but
Roy Keane was right about one thing.
Ireland were useless at the 2012 European Championships.
For that the manager – and not the TV pundits – should pay the price.
EURO SIDELINE VIEWS
SO who do we follow now that Ireland are out of the Euros? Well, Greece somehow made it into the quarterfinals and will play Germany this weekend, so we have to shout for them just to annoy Angela Merkel if for no other reason. I’m also thinking we should break with tradition and cheer England on if they get past the Ukraine and into the last eight on Tuesday night. Since half of Ireland follows English club teams, surely we should look favorably on their national side as well. Or am I joking? I’ll tell you next week . . .
IRELAND may now share the worst record ever at the European finals, and we may have been the first team out of this summer’s tournament, but there is one consolation – we’re not the Dutch. The Holland side that made the World Cup final in South Africa two years ago didn’t win a match in the finals, just like us. Unlike us, they were one of the favorites for the tournament. Bet that early flight home from the Ukraine hurt. And yes, they were home before us, a good 24 hours before us as it happens . . .
THE former French manager Raymond Domenech was so taken with the behavior of the Irish fans at the Euros that he wants a new job –as Giovanni Trapattoni’s successor. It’s not the first time a Frenchman has been linked with the Irish job, but I have a funny feeling that Domenech’s previous history with Ireland -- he was in charge of France and behaved appallingly on THAT night in Paris -- may go against him in this instance . . .
FORMER Ireland bosses Eoin Hand, Mick McCarthy, Brian Kerr and Steve Staunton have all been working as television pundits at the Euros. So have Roy Keane, Jason McAteer, Mattie Holland, Gary Breen and Kevin Kilbane. Makes for an interesting dinner, table that one . . .
GIOVANNI Trapattoni says he is going to stay around for the World Cup qualifiers despite Ireland’s embarrassment at the Euros, and why wouldn’t he? With a salary of almost $1.5 million a year he’d be mad to quit.
HERO OF THE EUROS
DAMIEN Duff played his 100th game for Ireland on Monday night and it may well have been his last. Robbie Keane, his old mate, insisted Duffer wear the captain’s armband for the night, and that in itself says something. More importantly, Duff was one of the few Irish players to emerge with any credit from the Euros when, as always, his commitment, work-rate and skill were top class. So was his insistence that personal glory meant nothing to him in Poland next to Ireland’s very damaged national pride. If Duffer retires – and he may well do so – we will lose one of this country’s best players ever.
IDIOT OF THE EUROS
KEITH Andrews was doing so well at the Euros until a serious faux-pas on Monday night. Ireland were two down to Italy and going nowhere when the midfielder, one of our best players all tournament up to that stage, decided to pick up a needless yellow card for a stupid jostle with Italian playmaker Pirlo. Sadly it was his second yellow of the night and he was sent off, but not before he pointed a very angry finger at the ref, then kicked a spare ball into the crowd. Now Andrews is banned for the first World Cup qualifier, in Kazakhstan of all places. He really should have known better.