“Post-mortems are for dead people”, my English teacher told us as we scrabbled among the mass of corrected exam papers he had just plonked down on the table.
While he was a fantastic teacher, I have always considered there to be great learning in analysing your mistakes and if there is to be any positive to cling onto from the events of the past week (apart from the fantastic performance of the Irish fans), it’s what we can learn going forward.
Readers of this column have been inundated with musings on the national team over the past few weeks. This is primarily a League of Ireland website and I probably have strayed off into the lofty heights of international football once too many. But the next time we meet, the domestic game will be back and normal service will have resumed.
As I say, it is important we examine these most painful and humbling of developments and learn from them – and I think we can ALL learn something.
The euphoria at qualifying for our first European Championships in 24 years was overwhelming. Like a huge tidal wave coming towards shore, everyone was swept up by it. It seems no one was spared.
Irish jerseys appeared everywhere; flags hung proudly from street lamps and telephone poles; cars were draped in green, white and gold. While I can’t argue with optimism, the whole thing was crazy and we were destined for a fall.
We were all too happy to forget that we had scraped through the qualification process. We were played off the park twice by Russia and failed to beat Slovakia both home and away. When it came to it, we needed the footballing giants of Armenia to overcome the Slovakians to eventually finish second in Group B.
In the play-offs we avoided Bosnia, Turkey and Montenegro and found ourselves up against Estonia who are currently ranked 57th in the FIFA World Rankings. We beat them 4-0 away and managed to draw 1-1 at home. If we had been paired with any other team, would we have made the finals at all?
We’ll never know.
It didn’t matter though as the optimism reached extraordinary levels. People decided we had a ‘good’ chance of getting out of a group that had the reigning world and European champions as well as Italy, the 2006 World Champions (as if they needed an introduction). As for Croatia, that fixture was seen as the one we couldn’t dare afford to lose.
When we did go down 3-1 to the Croatians, the full scale of the task facing us began to sink in.
And yet people still clung on to hope. A man in a coffee shop in Dublin told me he had a good feeling we would ‘take something of the Spanish’ and as for the Italians, well Trap ‘knows them too well for us to get beaten there, surely?’
Whether we do make it three in a row and become the first team to depart the Euros without a single point doesn’t really matter. The fact is we let our expectations run riot and were left felling incredibly disappointed when Fabregas slammed home number four, and opted not to celebrate.
So as fans, we can learn from this.
I think more importantly the management and Trap in particular must learn. Public opinion is divided over whether the wily Italian is the right man to lead Ireland into the next campaign. While there is still a lot of support out there for Trapattoni and he himself thinks he should stay on, nobody can argue he made some wrong and truly bizarre decisions during the campaign - so much so that I began to wonder if he knew what he was doing.
In our last friendly game against Bosnia before departing for Montecatini, Trap gave James McClean a full 90 minutes before hinting that at 23, the winger was too young to appear at the Euros. Trap then appeared to change his mind when McClean came off the bench against Spain.
Other strange decisions included starting Simon Cox in the Spain game and then introducing clubless Paul Green for Glenn Whelan in that same game with ten minutes to go. He seemed to talk down about players or concentrated on their tenacity and hard-work, as opposed to their technical abilities as professional footballers.
And there were others.
If Trap does indeed stay on, and it looks as though he will having signed a two year contract extension back in November, you have to hope that at some point he will recognise his own failings rather than say something along the lines of 'they don’t make these mistakes in training’.
Despite the poor showings, I think we have a lot to be proud of. When we began the qualifying campaign we were seeded third in Group B. There were nine groups in the qualification stage which immediately indicates there were 18 teams supposedly better than us, with another eight our equals, based on rankings alone.
When you throw in the fact we have a population of four million and that there is another international football team on this same tiny island, to get into the final 16 of a competition that had 51 competitors to begin with isn’t bad.
From all that has gone on, one thing is abundantly clear. This country is football mad, as was highlighted by the fantastic support in the GE Arena in Gdansk on Thursday night.
The GAA will probably the most pleased by Ireland’s early exit. An All-Ireland Championship has been going on over the last few weeks. Has anybody noticed? Many haven’t because a beautiful relationship is struck up every time this country qualifies for the finals of a major championship. It consumes the whole country.
And in that there is something for the FAI to tap into. If they properly support the game and invest in the right areas, post mortems like these will become a thing of the past.
Now bring on Drogheda and Bray - and the tea and biscuits in the Hunky Dorys Park press area at half-time. It’s been far too long!
Sam joined Extratime for the 2011 season and is now the site's features editor. He is based in Dublin and covers all the clubs in the capital. He is also prone to the odd Drogheda game. If you would like to contact Sam, you can reach him at email@example.com.