The Much-Improveable Carling Nations Cup

Last week saw the beginning of the very first Carling Nations Cup, involving the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a league based tournament where each team will play each other once in the one host stadium, this year it’s in the new Lansdowne Road stadium (Note: That stadium will never be called ‘the A v i v a’ by me). The small competition sounded like fun the first time that I heard about it, probably about a year and a half ago. But since then I’ve come to look upon the Carling Nations Cup as almost something to be laughed at.

What is the point in playing the same three teams every two years? The games are played at times that international friendlies are scheduled, so matches could instead be organized against much tougher opposition which would prove a more difficult test and offer more valuable experience to the players. And that’s what international friendlies are about, aren’t they? Gaining experience and keeping the squad progressing together as a team when they don’t normally all see each other. I mean, are they really going to learn that much playing against the likes of Norn Iron every second year, as opposed to trying to convince the likes of Germany, Argentina and Spain to visit?

Ex-Sligo player Seamus Coleman making his international debut

And in fairness, it did seem that Trap treated the Wales match as a ground-testing friendly. Seamus Coleman and Ciarán Clarke were handed their international debuts. As well, O’Dea, Walters and former League of Ireland star Keith Fahey were given pitch time. So the point is made that new things were tried out by the Ireland boss with the likes of these players, some of which bound to be starters in the near future, handed debuts and match experience.

– But what happens in two years time? When Ireland and Wales face each other once more? A sense of familiarity and a growing urge for a pursuit of something new will come upon the players. Why choose to play against this opposition when Ireland has before, and could do again, attracted the brightest talents of international football to come to Dublin.

Six changes were made to Trapattoni’s team that started the Ireland v Wales match. For normal competitive football the limit is three substitutions. Gary Speed also felt the need to make five changes during the ninety minutes in his first test as the manager of Wales. I ask to the organisers of this competition – are you deliberately trying to tune down the intensity and atmosphere of the so-called “competitive nature” of the Carling Nations Cup? Watching the game, one could quite easily see that this wasn’t a make or break match for the players. They didn’t need to give it 100% because there was simply hardly anything to lose. Without a doubt, teams are always happy when they win and no player would lose a game on purpose, but all I’m saying is that winning or losing this tie was a hit that they would have accepted.

Call me a cynic but unless wholesale changes are made to this ‘competition’ I can see the whole thing being scrapped after two or three of them being played. Although I would still like to see a good, competitive, full-hearted Carling Nations Cup. I’d like to see myself being excited in the build up to any of the three rounds of fixtures. It would be great if we could see the stadiums packed at a total buzz about the place with both sets of fans willing their side on to the last. But the way it is now, I’m afraid I can’t see that happening.

Limiting the number of allowed substitutions to three should be the first change that the organising committee should undertake. And after that, England should be included into the picture. England are a more naturally gifted team than any of Ireland, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and these four teams would all love to beat England in a match. It would simply add more intensity to those games for starters, as well as a lot more passion from opposing sets of fans. Until then, it’ll be nothing more than games that players will reluctantly play, waiting to get back to their clubs in preparation for the much more important weekend round of matches.


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