IMAGINE if an Irish soccer team was the number one ranked side in Europe. And imagine if a separate Irish team went out and defeated Germany in another European competition just two months later.
If your imagination is running wild at this point then consider the following ludicrous statements – that an Irish manager could guide an Irish national team to third in the world and then fourth, first, first, third and fourth in Europe over the course of five years.
Would you believe it possible?
Yet it happened when Brian Kerr was Irish Youths manager. That staggering run of success from 1997 to 2002 marked him out as the coming man. Sure enough he got the job he coveted, managing the national team where his reign was dubbed by many to be a failure, even though he lost just two out of 14 competitive fixtures, coming within one result of a place in the 2006 World Cup.
If his removal from that post was wrong then his continued exile from running the structures of Irish underage football is a sporting scandal.
Nevermind that results in the underage department have deteriorated since he left. While dispiriting, it is not a crisis. After all, how many Irish fans bothered to travel to watch Kerr’s teams when they were conquering the continent? The self-proclaimed ‘best fans in the world’ stayed away in their droves, not just from away games, but also the home fixtures.
Of greater importance is the absence of Kerr from the controls. At a time when we need younger players to emerge more than ever, someone has cut off the supply line. Next season there is a strong possibility that Ireland won’t have any home born Premier League player aged 25 or under.
And yet even though they have an expert sitting on their doorstep, the FAI continue to overlook him.
“It is hard to believe,” Kevin Kilbane told The Irish Sun last week. "There has got to be a time when we sit down and really look at how are we developing our players.
"We haven't had any success at that youth level since Brian was in charge. If ever there was a better man to structure a set-up like that .
"I'm not saying it because I know him well and because I've got so much time and respect for him, but you've got a man there who knows everything about youth football. He tells me something different every time I meet him. You look at him in amazement sometimes, the stuff that he tells you regarding youth structures and youth football and he's not involved!"
“He can relate to the top level, because he's been at the top, and to grassroots level. He is literally your bottom-to-top man who has been through every single level of Irish football.
"And yet we don't utilise his skills. It's baffling but I suppose there's politics to it. We have good people here who know how to develop players, know how to get them right but for one reason or another we're not doing it.
"That's the problem within associations. But for the greater good, we've got to have bigger men, bigger people to sit down and discuss what they can bring to the party, even if it's in an advisory role because one man can't solve it on their own. We need a massive pool of people involved.
"That's the travesty that we don't have someone like Brian involved. I'm looking at him sometimes and thinking, 'Jesus Christ' because he knows everything, he knows how youth football works.
"He knows how to develop players. Sometimes there's a bit of luck involved but look at the players who came through him who went on to have great successful careers.
"I'm not even talking about the Robbie Keanes, Damien Duffs and Richard Dunnes. You've got the likes of Andy Reid, Liam Miller, Graham Barrett and lots of other lads who have had good careers.
"You could probably name another 50 who had decent careers in England, whether or not they played senior international level.
"What it does is when you get so many, it pushes the standards up at the very top because they are being pushed. That's what successful nations have at the moment which we don't."
So why not?
Kerr, if asked, would go back. It’s arguable that he is more passionate about Irish football than anyone.
His knowledge is unquestionably high. And yet there is something wrong about his absence from the FAI’s payroll just as there is something wrong with the fact the senior team couldn’t buy a win at the moment.
Ten years have passed since John Delaney and the FAI board cut their ties with Kerr, Delaney claiming at the time that he’d be replaced with a world-class manager.
Well, sorry John, but five top-four finishes in elite European competition is world-class. Irish football needs Kerr more than he needs it, but for the sake of the kids, you’d hope this couple could patch up their differences and get together again.