A dispiriting night waded early in the murky waters of self-help. Tracing the obstacles preventing a man becoming the best he can be. Sometimes, the man himself.
John Giles told us the parable of Mick Bates, a bit-part player during his time at Leeds. “Good player, good ability, could have been better.”
Gilesy had been onto him regularly, trying to find a little more, until one day Bates called him aside on the training pitch.
“Look John, I know you want to be the best midfield player in the world, but I don’t want to be the best midfield player in the world.”
Bates just wanted to get by. Gilesy worried that James McCarthy too might have to persuade himself to get where he needed to be; to impose himself, to demand the ball, to lead.
What about his country? Would a Trap team ever be the best it could be? As usual; a single reference point. “Will it be like Paris?” wondered Billo.
Somehow, they thought it might, frightening Billo a little. “I can’t understand it; a huge sense of optimism has developed lately.” “I kind of worry about this as well,” said Tony O’Donoghue.
“Today will be a special game, and I fancy us to win,” beamed Giles, as bullish as he’s been in years. “A more progressive 11 than he usually picks,” begrudged Eamon Dunphy.
The proviso; “The system has to go out the window. Footballers win matches by invention and their own initiative. The straitjacket has to come off.”
By the interval, optimism had evaporated, save for Robbie’s. Dunphy hailed the goal. “Courage, anticipation, never-say-die attitude, real guts and desire. And the optimism of the great strikers.”
But McCarthy had people to convince, maybe himself.
“He’s letting the game pass him by,” accused Brady. Some sympathy from Giles: “Everything is long. If it’s in the air all the time, it’s very difficult to get it.”
“It’s all tenacity with us, no guile” said Brady. “We need Wes Hoolahan on the pitch. If it goes on like this, we’ll lose,” warned Dunphy.
And so it transpired. The straitjacket stayed on, and by the end George Hamilton saw little left underneath. “Just like the jumper that gets caught on a nail and the wool begins to unravel.”
Getting by wasn’t enough this time.
The inquest. Ronnie Whelan: “It feels such a low.” Dunphy: “Every Irish soccer fan will feel despair. I think this coach has come to the end of the line. A terrible performance. I feel sorry for the players. I don’t think they can manage Trapattoni’s system. It is crude. At some stages, it was stupid.”
“There is a stubbornness there that really is almost offensive.”
Giles admitted his optimism had been totally misplaced. “It’s not the way to play football. By the end, it was a shambles. I didn’t really care at the end. Because I didn’t think we deserved to get to Rio.”
Brady, who has stuck by his friend, his boss, his colleague for so long, almost threw up his hands. “Brawn over guile. Our tactics were predictable. It hasn’t worked so the manager will have to pay the price. He knows that.”
Dunphy accepted he had been an advocate of getting Trapattoni. “This man has real pedigree. That’s the mystery. I’m still astonished that he made such a bags of it.”
Riled, Brady offered the old saver about resources. “If we’re hanging our hat on James McCarthy, we are struggling.”
Dunphy, for his part, turned up one or two weaknesses in Glenn Whelan’s game
“A terrible player. He can’t run. He can’t pass. He can’t tackle. He can’t see anything…”
Before moving to head off any groundswell of sympathy for his victim… “And he drives two Ferraris.”
But perhaps Gilesy offered the starkest condemnation of all.
“If I thought, as a kid, that I’d have to play football like that; I’d never have played football.”
Even Mick Bates wouldn’t have wanted that.
First published in the Irish Examiner