Delusions of Grandeur: Eoin Hands Record

The game against Spain was the 10th competitive international under Eoin Hand's managership. The time has come to put the question: just how good exactly are the Republic of Ireland team? There has been a tendency to analyse our achievements too much in our own terms. That way a distorted picture has been built up so that Ireland are often over-praised when they win and over-criticised when they lose.

But it takes two teams to play a football match. We can get a clearer idea of the achievements of Hand's teams by examining them against the background of the quality of opposition they faced at the time. There was much moaning and groaning over the bad luck we had in just missing qualification for the World Cup finals last summer. But we had our share of good luck too. That is conveniently forgotten or just plain ignored. That is a pity. Analysing through a green haze brings false hopes and false confidence and gets us into trouble.


The World Cup Games

Holland 2-1 (H)

Our first big break. Holland arrive with a 3rd choice side. The top players have publicly expressed their lack of confidence in manager Zwartkruis in the wake of the 1980 European Championship. He retaliates by selecting an untried, unrepresentative team for Dublin. No Krol, Haan, Ling or Neeskens to name but four. A young goalkeeper with only half a season of first division football behind him. It will be his first - and last game for Holland.

Holland are hit badly when two key players - van der Korput and Schoenaker - are carried off in the course of the game. But they are still leading with twelve minutes to go. The defensive disorganisation with which they hand victory to Ireland bears more resemblance to a Kindergarten XI than an international side. Lawrenson is allowed to stand alone in front of goal as Brady lobs a simple free-kick over to him which he heads into the net.

This could never have happened with Krol in the team. Zwartkruis gets his marching orders from the Dutch FA four months later. After his departure, with half their Dublin team dropped, Holland win nine out of the next ten points.


Belgium 1-1 (H)

A fine performance against the European finalists, still close to their peak. The Belgians shut up shop in the 2nd half and play for a draw. The Irish midfield of Brady/Grealish/Daly are outstanding, both individually and as a unit. Nonetheless, a home point dropped.


France 0-2 (A)

A valiant performance against a better team. How we survive the first 25 minutes only one down is the biggest unsolved mystery since the Bermuda Triangle. Then Robinson's goal is disallowed. That is just as inexplicable.

The gross injustice of this refereeing decision prompted an understandable feeling of sour grapes which clouded the fact that we were outclassed in this match.


Cyprus 6-0 (H)

Admirable demolition job.

Belgium 0-1 (A)

Floodlit Robbery! Ireland create virtually no chances - but neither do Belgium! Hand's tactics are perfect - slow, "boring" possession football, no opportunity given to the Belgians to catch us with a counter-attack. They are forced to "make" the play - and without van Moer they just can't do it.


Stapleton's goal on half-time looks like being decisive. But it's unjustly disallowed. Ceuleman's goal just before full time is totally undeserved and just too bad to be true. A very bad performance by the Belgians, showing once more that they have big limitations when forced to attack by the opposite side. (In Spain they will only manage one goal against El Salvador where Hungary score ten.)


Holland 2-2 (A)

A particularly good performance by the Irish owes a lot to the eccentric formation new Dutch manager Rijvers puts out. There are no full-backs! This tactical hara-kiri is exposed even before the Dutch touch the ball as Devine sails into their unoccupied right-back zone and sets up a great chance for Robinson. The Irish goals come after Heighway and Lawrenson penetrate into the empty Dutch left-back zone.


Heighway makes a bad mistake to let in the Dutch for their first goal. Langan, in some bother with Rep throughout, concedes a penalty for the second. The Dutch create more chances. Lawrenson blocks a Muhren shot on the line with McDonagh stranded, a Wijnstekers shot takes the paint off McDonagh's left goalpost, Ling misses a sitter after van Kooten barges through O'Leary and Devine.


Against this, Ireland offer the early Robinson chance and a Stapleton header over the crossbar from a corner late in the game. The home point dropped against the Belgians has been won back.


France 3-2 (H)

Our third big break. The French side at Lansdowne Road bears no resemblance to their strongest side. No Giresse, Tigana, Genghini, Rocheteau or Tresor to name but five. This should prevent us making the equation that "we beat France and France reached the semi-finals, so that proves we would have done well in Spain". It's not that simple.


France's performance at Lansdowne Road was a parody of the real footballing strengths this country has to offer and was to show in Spain. There was a jittery goalkeeper; a greenhorn centre-back who turned the first centre he had to deal with into his own net; a full-back who laid on a pinpoint pass for Robinson to score Ireland's third goal and defenders running into and knocking over each other as if they were auditioning for a role in the Keystone Cops.


Platini was playing in an unaccustomed and unsuitable position. Six didn't come on until the last fifteen minutes. Even then he almost hauled the match out of the fire for the French, laying on their second goal and forcing a stupendous save from McDonagh.


At the end of the day Ireland failed to qualify because our goal difference was six goals inferior to that of France. We could look back in anger at the disallowed goals in Paris and Brussels. But if we're honest, we must admit our luck balanced out.


The vastly understrength nature of the Dutch and French sides which came to Dublin (and the bizarre Dutch line-up in Rotterdam) greatly facilitated the winning of five of fourteen points. Four more came from the Cyprus games, the last was the home point won against Belgium.

On this basis there were wide claims that we were the best side in the group. Delusions of grandeur? It is pointless to discuss the close season tour which featured a seven-nil drubbing at the hands of Brazil and the defeat by Trinidad and Tobago. These Irish sides were as unrepresentative as the Dutch and French at Lansdowne Road.

That didn't prevent a lot of people calling the Wrath of God down on Eoin Hand, Liam Brady and anyone else who happened to be available. But when the European Championships came round the big talk started again.



The European Championship games

Holland 1-2 (A)

A scoreline which flatters us. We are not so much outplayed as outfoxed by a young, inexperienced Dutch side. The Irish defence looks alarmingly unsophisticated, unable to improvise in organisation to counter the unusual tactics of the Dutch.


As far as the creation of chances is concerned there is only one team in it. The Dutch even create the Irish goal as I8-year old Vanenburg pokes the ball to Brady near his own posts. McDonagh and poor Dutch finishing save us from humiliation.

Iceland 2-0 (H)

A stiff, laboured performance with very little movement off the ball. We seem to be paralysed by the memory of Rotterdam. Few chances. "This was never going to be a five or six nil" says Hand afterwards. But a glance at Iceland's last qualifying group shows that the Soviet Union beat them 5-0 and Czechoslovakia beat them 6-1 on their way to the World Cup finals.


So why not us? Maybe we're just not quite that good.

Spain 3-3 (H)

Two attacking formations provide an open game, excitement and goals. The Spanish punish our structural weakness on the right of midfield so that we are left a man short at the end of two carbon-copy Spanish moves which result in goals.


The Irish fightback is magnificent, coupled with no small skill. But if a home win is par for the European Champion. ship course, then we've dropped a shot to par. When are we going to get it back? Leading Dutch journalist Joop Niezen characterised us recently as "a footballing dwarf". Over the past while we have built up a respectable body of results which make that image insulting and out of date. But we haven't made it to the rank of "top European side" either.

Not yet.