Former Republic of Ireland international defender Denis Irwin believes that the Football Association of Ireland have appointed 'the perfect manager' in Martin O'Neill, but admits that the Boys in Green 'got a dose of reality' when they lost all three games at Euro 2012.
The 56-time Ireland international felt that although Giovanni Trapattoni got off to a good start as manager, the time was right for him to step aside and let someone else take the reins. "The country, the players and the fans needed a lift after Trapattoni," Irwin told Goal. "Don’t get me wrong, I think in the first four years of his era he did really well, nearly getting to the World Cup except for a handball against France and we got to the European Championships last year where we didn’t do particularly well, but we were up against Spain, Italy and Croatia.
"I think the last 16, 17 months has been a bit of a grind and although we had a tough group we really struggled and in Martin I think we’ve got the perfect manager."
Irwin's former Manchester United teammate Roy Keane was chosen as O'Neill's assistant, and the full-back is certain that the appointment will be good for both Keane and the Irish players. "I think it’s great that Roy is number two," Irwin said. "He’ll learn a lot off Martin, he will give his opinion but I think Martin has to make the decisions. But I it will be very good for Roy to get back in the game after two and-a-half years out."
However, despite his delight at the appointment of O'Neill and Keane, the 48-year-old has reservations on the abilities of the current crop of Irish players. "We’re under no illusions: we’ve got the same players," Irwin admitted.
"We just hope that Roy can get an extra 5 per cent out of the players, Martin can get an extra 5 per cent out of the players and we risk it a little bit more at home. That’s what the fans want. It’s at home that we’ve really struggled.
"I think the expectation of the Ireland squad from the fans has probably been a bit too much. We got a dose of reality in the European Championships and found out where we were.
"But you need luck in qualifying groups and I don’t think we got that in drawing Germany and Sweden. Germany always qualify and Sweden are a really good side so we were always facing an uphill battle there."
Despite the side's failings, Irwin believes that the Boys in Green can still compete with the bigger teams, and is optimistic about Ireland's chances of reaching Euro 2016. "It’s not easy," Irwin said. "The expectation level may have to come down a bit. We’re not blessed with a fantastic team and I don’t mean that to be disrespectful.
"We can compete, with the Irish spirit we can always battle but I think a nice draw will help us, it’s as simple as that.
"The two boys will be itching to get down to business in the qualifiers and hopefully we can build on the start in the first two games."
Denis Irwin was presenting Frosts of Shoreham with a Manchester United Chevrolet Trax – for more information go to www.chevrolet.co.uk