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Hunty’s Column: All Work And No Play

Managers should embrace their luxury talent rather than overly trusting their workmanlike players.

Republic of Ireland v Wales - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

Eamon Dunphy, football playmaker. Yep, four words I'd never thought I would hear in the same sentence. Don't worry, I haven't completely lost the plot, nor am I dreaming of old red eyes playing alongside George Evans or Joey van den Berg in midfield.

Dunphy is on the TV panel that covers all Ireland's games over here. He is joined by Liam Brady and currently Dieter Hamman who took over from Johnny Giles. Unlike the ex-pros who cover the England games, these are seriously grumpy men. They wouldn't be out of place with Statler and Waldorf on the Muppet Show. Dunphy loves Wes Hoolahan: if he's playing, he is the Irish Messi.

In a losing team, everyone else is to blame for a bad result. If Hoolahan isn't playing, heaven help the world and especially Glenn Whelan. He (Hoolahan) wasn't playing in the turgid performance against Georgia on Saturday and didn't we know about it.

Ireland played like a Reading team in the dark old days of hoofball under a number of managers, whereas Georgia resembled a progressive Jaap Stam side. Glenn Whelan was Mr Invisible, but in fairness to him, he wasn’t helped by how the management directed the team. Hoolahan is a creative player, but it's fair to say that a 35 year-old squad player at Norwich isn't the future of Irish football (cough, Liam Kelly, cough).

I do agree with Dunphy’s criticism that Ireland don’t trust so-called ‘luxury’ players enough, and are instead obsessed with those that can ‘do a job’. Indeed, over the years there have been so many players overlooked or underused at international level. In the 1970s, it was Hudson and Bowles, Glenn Hoddle in the 1980s, and Matt Le Tissier in the 1990s. Even now, Ross Barkley seems to be falling into a similar category.

When you see England struggling to overcome minnows Malta, with workmanlike players like Jake Livermore starting, it is a real worry. At Reading, our very own Darren Caskey divided fans’ opinions, but for me he was a terrific passer - even if he wasn’t always on the same wavelength as his team mates. Similarly, the great Liam Brady wasn't trusted in Ireland's transition under Jack Charlton.

Such talents are seen as the problem, not the solution, as they don’t tend to fit into an ageing, negative approach to the game. Martin O’Neill has been a lucky manager, where late goals and a few moments of individual skill gave got him out of jail, but his narky response to reporters after Saturday’s game said it all.

Glenn Whelan is the captain of this Ireland team and that kind of sums up the problem: all hard work and no exciting play makes Jack a dull boy. Let’s hope that, by Liam Kelly’s time in an Ireland shirt, there will be a real talent to shine before it’s too late.