Kerr faces game of catch-up in 'group of banana skins'

The in-flight entertainment on Monarch Airlines 9539 from Tirana, carrying the Irish squad, was the Steven Spielberg film Catch Me If You Can. The title is a reminder of the challenge they still face in qualifying for Euro 2004 after a punishing Group 10 double-header in Georgia and Albania.

Four points from two games represent the minimum acceptable return. This may not be quite a group of death, but it may well be, as one Irish commentator put it yesterday, "the group of banana skins". Each of the five nations is capable of beating the others. The Irish may need to go to Switzerland, in their final game, in need of a win.

After visits to two countries that are, in themselves, an enigma, it is no great surprise that only a little light has been shed on Ireland's chances.

"It was the most difficult of trips to put together because of the isolation of the countries," said Brian Kerr, the Republic of Ireland's new manager, exhaustion etched on his face yesterday. "I think we managed all that stuff very well. Considering the withdrawals and the difficulties with the team, they did as well as could be expected.

"It could have been a lot worse if the results had gone otherwise. The only thing was we got a reasonable number of points and Switzerland and Russia, who are in the top two positions in the group, did not gain ground."

Kerr has had no honeymoon in his new post, inheriting a squad in turmoil with morale damaged after the autumn defeats and Mick McCarthy's departure. Victory over Scotland in a February friendly was marred by Roy Keane's thoughtless announcement of his retirement on the eve of the match, much to Kerr's anger, while these two games have been hit by six withdrawals and, to compound matters, the death of Robbie Keane's father. That meant he missed out on the cauldron of Tbilisi and was in no fit state to play against Albania, as Keane himself admitted.

"Of course I was thinking of my dad," he said. "It's only natural and anyone in my position would have done the same. You can try to get it off your mind, but it's hard." The fact that he was willing to make the trip shows that Kerr is having a positive effect.

On the field, however, there is a lack of creativity in midfield. Matt Holland and Mark Kinsella are too similar. The Irish miss Roy Keane, as a player at least. Up front, Kerr lacks options. The major plus is the defence, with Shay Given in imperious form in Tirana and Kenny Cunningham stepping assuredly into the captain's role. Still, the bulk of the squad is young.

As for their opponents, the defeated Georgians provided a threat, both on and off the field, with European football's governing body, Uefa, investigating the missile throwing, including a knife which struck Kevin Kilbane, while Albania, who drew, were more impressive and are, in both footballing and economic terms, an emerging nation.

Still there was a tinge of disappointment. Holland summed up the mood: "We came with the objective of getting two wins and I am a little disappointed that we have not done that. We have three home games in a row now and it is massively important that we get three victories."

Indeed. Nine points from hosting Albania and Georgia in June and Russia in September are a must. But, of course, this is the group of banana skins and the Irish can afford no more slip-ups.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee