IT ALMOST FELT like the first day back at school as Noel King took Ireland training in Malahide yesterday.
A new teacher, new methods, and a class anxious to make a good impression.
There were some old names back on the roll. Andy Reid, Darron Gibson and Anthony Stokes all trained while Kevin Doyle, whose international exile has been comparatively shorter, watched from the sidelines.
But with World Cup qualification effectively out of reach and two games still to play, Ireland will have to wait for their fresh start.
King is only the temporary sub while the hunt continues for Giovanni Trapattoni’s permanent successor but, even if his time is limited, he was determined to set the right tone. Friday night’s trip to Germany is a “huge match” for him personally, he explained.
This is what I do. I’ve always had a view about what international managers should and shouldn’t do, what international players should and shouldn’t do. It’s huge for me. To just turn up and say, ‘It’s okay, Germany are going to walk all over us’ wouldn’t be acceptable.
King knows that he is unlikely to be involved beyond the end of this campaign next Tuesday night against Kazakhstan but on a personal level, there are still consequences to the decisions he makes over the next eight days and the performances that follow.
“I have to live in Ireland after this,” he said when asked if his interim status gives him the freedom to take more risks. “That’s my long term.”
If that’s the level of personal investment he feels, it is no surprise that he is changing it up and doing things his own way.
Bringing the exiles of the Trapattoni era back into the fold was only the first part. The tone of yesterday’s session in Malahide was noticeably different as King was much more involved than his predecessor, stopping the play to quiz the players and reiterate his tactical instructions.
Gone too is the Trapattoni fondness for naming the team at his pre-match press conference. King will name his team shortly before kick-off on Friday night, giving the Germans no more time to do their homework than is absolutely necessary.
Whatever the 11, it seems likely that Ireland will try to soak up the German pressure and then take their chances where they fall.
“I’d imagine we might have to defend for some time,” he said with just a hint of understatement.
The 6-1 humiliation casts a long shadow but, even if Ireland’s World Cup chances are all but dead, King insisted that Friday has to be about more than restoring lost pride.
“I’m interested in taking the German game on its values, looking at the quality of the players they have, looking at the players we have and then trying to put something in place that hopefully will win us the game.
It’s a football match. Every kid, every adult, you go a football match and you try to win the game. That’s all I know and that’s my mission: to try and win the game.
“How we go about doing it and against the opposition, it might sound naive but I’m not naive. I understand fully the magnitude of the tie but the mission is to try and win the game, nothing else.”
After all, that kind of attitude and approach is the only thing that will keep alive the personal pride he feels having been asked to do the job.
“That will only sustain if we can put in two good performances.
“You don’t have great pride in disasters, do you? We’re not going to even talk about disasters.”
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- Noel King