JOHN Delaney has warned Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane that Ireland fans won’t be satisfied with making up the numbers in international football.
The FAI Chief Executive says the country must qualify for at least one major tournament before 2022 – and he wants to see the team in at least two tournaments per decade from now on.
Giovanni Trapattoni ended a ten-year wait for qualification when he led Ireland to Euro 2012, after both Steve Staunton and Brian Kerr failed to build on Mick McCarthy’s success at leading Ireland to World Cup 2002.
Jack Charlton created, and then spoiled, a nation of football fanatics when he brought Ireland to three major tournaments in six years (Euro ‘88, World Cup ‘90, World Cup ‘94), and Delaney wants to see a return to those glory days under the new duo that have revitalised a passionate support base.
With 24 countries set to play in the newly enlarged European Championships, qualification is easier than ever before, and the FAI insist they’re determined to make the most of it.
“We certainly hope the days of waiting 10 years between qualifications is gone. I hope we get to France in two year’s time; that’s the aim,” said Delaney, speaking at the announcement of a €2.7m grant from the Irish Sports Council to boost the FAI’s grassroots plans.
“All the appointments we’ve made; Giovanni Trapattoni, Marco Tardelli, Martin O’Neill, Roy Keane…that’s not been to make up the numbers, that’s to qualify.
“We’re not in it not to qualify.
“The increased number of 24 teams for the Euros gives us a better chance.
“In this particular case we’ve a difficult group, we know that, but the aim for the players, Association and management is to qualify.
“The World Cup is more difficult, there’s only 13 spots, but we have to make it that every time we get into a European group, we aim to qualify.
“Should we look for a minimum of two qualifications a decade? I think we have to.”
The FAI are preparing a bid to be one of the hosts for the multi-nation 2020 European Championships, and will be delivering their bid to UEFA by Saturday’s deadline.
Hosting games doesn’t come with an automatic promise the country’s team will play in the tournament, but the recently announced ‘Nations League’ does offer a new route into the Finals, with four countries qualifying through the new competition.
This new concept sees Europe’s footballing nations split into leagues according to their rankings, and will involve home and away clashes that aim to put an end to ‘meaningless’ friendlies.
Winners of each division enter a playoff to qualify for the major tournament, meaning Ireland have yet another way of making it to the big time.
“When the public come here they’ll know they’re games of importance – important to the players, the management, the Association, the so-called meaningless friendlies tag is extinct after this,” Delaney claimed.
“If we win our group you get promoted, if you win your group and you don’t qualify through the traditional route, then it’s a secondary way of doing it.
“I’m delighted about the Nations League, at the moment we’ll be in a Division tTwo, and if we won that, we’d be promoted to Division One.
“The games will be competitive, and there may well be prize money.
“We also have UEFA centralised TV rights done to 2018, but this now guarantees that there’s another centralised TV deal up to 2022.
“We’d expect an increase in it, but that has to be negotiated over this year, but it gives us great financial certainty again to 2022.”
The end to ‘meaningless friendlies’ and divisional structures based on rankings may also bring an end to money spinners and glamour clashes like the visit of Brazil or Argentina, and next year’s game with England.
But there are talks for these games to still take place, according to Delaney.
“The first thing is this – the bigger nations were playing against each other anyway, the Germanys and Italys and Frances and Englands were playing anyhow, in the main,” he claimed.
“There’s talks of other games on the fringes, I don’t think Argentina or Brazil have been approached yet, but there’s talk of using the friendly dates if you weren’t in playoffs for those type of contests.”