Video games give Holland fuller picture

Road to Euro 2004: Kerr's careful appliance of science equips the Republic well as Scots welcome a fresh talent
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The Independent Football

Films will loom large in the life of Matt Holland this week. There is the now compulsory team "cinema night" when he meets up with the rest of the Republic of Ireland squad and heads for a multiplex in Dublin - and then there is the personalised DVD which dropped through his letterbox at his home in Colchester.

Holland knew the disc was on its way because he received a text message from Brian Kerr, his national manager, to tell him. "Make sure you watch it before you come in," the text read. DVDs? Text messages? Such are the techniques of modern management. Such are the techniques of new Ireland.

Kerr's appliance of footballing science may give his players the modern approach so lacking in the eyes of their former captain Roy Keane. Kerr's insistence on all the squad going together to the movies, on the other hand, may be good for team spirit, but would not have appealed to the Manchester United player.

It suits the man now wearing Keane's No 6 shirt - and who will lead the Irish into their final and critical qualifying game in Switzerland next Saturday - just fine, however. For Holland, the match represents the squaring of a circle. It was a late goal by the Swiss which so damaged Ireland's Euro 2004 hopes last autumn and proved to be the final act in Mick McCarthy's stewardship.

But first the DVDs. Kerr has employed Brian McCarthy - "Brian the Video", as he is known - to tailor for each player a presentation of what to expect from their opponents. So Holland will have been sent footage of the Swiss midfielders Hakin Yakin, Johann Vogel and Fabio Celestini - complete with voiceover offering tips.

"It will show their players, the way they set up," explains Holland as he sits protected from the rain at the training ground of Charlton Athletic, the club he joined over the summer for a startlingly cut-price £750,000 (such was the state of Ipswich Town's finances).

"It's beneficial because you get pictures on how they play, showing certain players who are right- or left-footed, and which way they turn. During a match you then get certain things which just flash back into your head. The Russian game summed it up, as a lot of what we saw on the DVD happened in the game in Dublin."

Except, of course, the Irish could only draw. "We were the better side and had more of the play. They defended very well and made it difficult for us," says Holland. "It certainly wasn't through any lack of effort."

No one could ever accuse the player who made 230 consecutive appearances for Ipswich of that. However, the 1-1 draw means that even if the Irish win in Basle they could still finish in the play-offs on goal difference if Russia, as expected, defeat Georgia at home. A draw against the Swiss and the Irish are almost certainly out. Nevertheless, Holland and his team-mates would have gladly taken these permutations last year, even if he shudders at the possibility of "another play-off".

"To be in the position we are in now, we would have certainly taken that after the first two games," he says. "We are going to Switzerland to win. No other result will do us, really. All we can do is do that and hope for the very best."

Holland then adds, as if prompted by the bad memories: "It all boils down to the first two games. Even a draw then would have seen us now in a much healthier position."

Indeed. The 4-2 defeat in Moscow last autumn saw the pressure on McCarthy - after the Keane affair and the World Cup brouhaha - grow intolerable. Maybe it influenced his thinking when the Irish met the Swiss in Dublin. They certainly did not have to win then, but went for broke and lost. McCarthy quit. "You look back and it feels like an absolute nightmare," Holland says. "We'd returned on such a high from the World Cup, and then had those two disappointing results in the space of about six weeks."

He chooses his words, as ever, with care. "What happened was very unfortunate, but maybe after the World Cup and the way things panned out Mick felt it was time to leave and for a fresh start. Maybe it was the right thing to do." He adds: "Mick's done a terrific job at Sunderland. He's a good manager."

And Holland is what they call a "good pro". He was also one of the first players with the courage publicly to criticise - in these pages - Keane's World Cup walkout, and was big enough to shoulder his former midfield partner's absence. "Mattie Holland is a gentleman, always quiet and dignified," says Niall Quinn in his autobiography of the whole affair. "He could be rubbing his hands, viewing this as his big break. To his credit, he's hugely disappointed in Roy. He hurts for the team."

Holland has always hurt for the team - and it was his goal, of course, that rescued the opening game in the World Cup, against Cameroon, and gave the Irish the belief that they could carry on. But it is clear he has said his piece on the Keane saga. "It is time to close the book on that one."

A new chapter is being written under Kerr, a man who has made a big impression. "He's easy to get on with, very approachable. If you have a problem or feel things could be done differently, then he is quite open to suggestions," says Holland.

Kerr will undoubtedly hand Holland the captain's armband in the absence of the suspended Kenny Cunningham. It means much to him - as does going to Portugal next summer. "At my age now, 30 next year, it will be one of the last opportunities for me to play in a big competition," says Holland. "I've played in the World Cup, but it would be great to play in at least one more big one."

He is suddenly in reflective mode. "The way my career has gone - I was given an opportunity to sign a new contract at West Ham and didn't do that. I moved to Bournemouth and took a step down to play first-team football, and the way it has panned out is that I've gradually worked my way back up. Second Division, First Division, got into the Premiership with Ipswich, played in Europe and played in the World Cup. It's been terrific for me. Ten years ago, if you had asked me when I was at West Ham, I would have said, 'No chance'."

No chance is what Ireland were said to have had not so long ago of qualifying for next summer. Few are saying that now.

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