As you know if you follow us on social media (just our Instagram now since Twitter is a hell-hole and Facebook is pointless) we regularly espouse supporting one’s local club where possible. We’re also, like everybody, well-known fans of Championship Manager 2001/02 – one of the two best football games of all time along with Sensible Soccer – so the theme of this post naturally congealed here some time ago at POTPHQ.
“The year is 2001 and a new nationalistic government has seized power. Their first directive is that only players playing at home qualify to play for the Irish national football team. Rules around the manager aren’t so strict however, and an eccentric young Belgian named Pyroon de Picz is hired to take charge of this new era. With World Cup 2002 qualifying already nearly completed, a meeting with the Netherlands at home with progression on the line is an immediate tough first test.”
Having attempted this challenge a couple of times in the past while not documenting it, tried a new 4-1-2-2-1 formation this time which did an even better job on the Dutch than in real life!:
Represented in this first squad were Bohs, Bray Wanderers, Cork City, Dundalk, Finn Harps, Galway United, Shamrock Rovers, Shelbourne and St. Pat’s:
A 1-0 over Cyprus next thanks to a Glen Crowe goal secured a play-off spot against Yugoslavia. A fine 0-0 in Belgrade gave us our third clean sheet in a row, before another great performance in Dublin and 3-1 sealed qualification! And people say “Irish football is shite.”:
After a mostly lacklustre World Cup 02 and Euro 04 qualifying… (there was this good Euro 04 result for Finland in between: )
…things picked up for World Cup 06 qualifying. A loss to Portugal was our only defeat of 2004, followed by great back-to-back wins over Turkey and Portugal in early 05:
With two games to go in September 05 we were top of the group, but a disappointing 1-0 loss away to Iceland (after a disappointing 0-0 in Dublin the year before) proved to be our undoing. A comprehensive defeat at the hands of Turkey away on the last day meant we missed a play-off spot on goal difference:
Our friendlies are mostly all against Hungary, Scotland, Slovenia and Slovakia, but it’s starting to get ridiculous:
Twelve months later, with Euro 08 qualifiers having kicked off, a loss to France was again our only defeat all year, meaning a not bad at all record of only four defeats in three years:
At one stage, Shamrock Rovers’ Tony Grant was our top scorer with an amazing return of 7 goals in 7 international games. He only made two more appearances before becoming ineligible by signing for San Jose Earthquakes:
Midfield captain Davy Byrne also reached 7 goals in 33 caps before transferring, signing for Hibs from Shels, while over the years we also lost Shels’ Jim Crawford to Reading; Bohemians’ Glen Crowne to Cultural in Spain; and St. Pat’s goalkeeper Barry Ryan to Spezia. But Newcastle’s Andy O’Brien did come to Bohs for a season loan bolstering our defence in 04/05. A squad from around then contained players from Bohs, Bray Wanderers, Cobh Ramblers, Cork City, Derry City, Drogheda, Dundalk, Kilkenny City, Longford Town, Shamrock Rovers, Shels, St Pat’s and Waterford United, with recent caps also for Finn Harps, Limerick and Sligo representatives. Dessie Baker is the only player left that was in our earliest squads:
A fun fact is that our left back for some time, who we were picking off ability, never actually played for his club Bohemians. His only experience at senior level for many years was 11 international caps for his country! We also discovered that Phil Coulter is in this game as Derry City owner and he’s not afraid to bring the axe down.
And there was this nice result at World Cup 2006:
A tough qualifying group for Euro 2008 including France and Norway seemed hopeless, after only one point was picked up out of the four games at home to the Norwegians. But a grand 5-0 win over Slovenia in September 07 meant all we had to do was beat group-whipping boys Estonia to leap-frog the already-done Norway into second and take the play-off spot:
In Tallinn however, the hosts spoiled our party by sharing the points while the Norwegians celebrated with their feet up at home:
World Cup 2010 qualifiers would prove to be our last campaign and it followed an all too familiar pattern. Germany, Yugoslavia, FYR Macedonia and Luxembourg were our opponents, and after losing to Germany home and away but drawing home and away with Yugoslavia, the disastrous failure of drawing twice with the Macedonians too meant yet another third place finish:
After this the heart left the team. Several of our best players moved abroad, such as Galway United goalkeeper Gareth Downey to Legia Warsaw; striker Gary O’Neill from Bohs to Tranmere Rovers; defender Colin Delaney from Dublin City to Leval; and defensive midfielder Barry Cantwell from St. Patrick’s Athletic to Bury. We also began losing the friendlies we used to win. With the football association unhappy with our stewardship, Pyroon de Picz resigned in early 2010 before the next friendly with Slovakia.
(If it wasn’t for last two meaningless friendlies we lost before ending, it would have been a “perfect” 24 wins and 24 losses. Although the 76 scored and 76 conceded is nice.)