From Liam Mackey at the Ernst-Happel Stadium
THE MORAL VICTORY HAS BEEN REPLACED BY VICTORY
Martin O’Neill hasn’t revolutionised Ireland’s style of play but he has most certainly transformed the mindset. The against all odds victory over Germany in Dublin showed that the sky-high achievement was possible and sowed the kind of deep, collective self-belief which the players were again able to tap into in for the play-off win against Bosnia and the memorable Euros defeat of Italy. To those big results, they have now added another in Vienna: the most significant away scalp since Jack Charlton’s team beat Scotland in Glasgow way back in 1987. The moral victory has been replaced by, well, just victory.
WE’VE A LOT TO THANK DERRY FOR
There’s O’Neill, obviously, and then there’s the towering Shane Duffy who formed a strong central bulwark with Ciaran Clark in repelling Austria but, the undoubted man of the hour in the Ernst Happel Stadium – indeed of this campaign so far – has to be James McClean. We thought he was the new Stephen Hunt but it turns out he’s the new Robbie Keane. Adding to his two goals in Moldova, his match-winner against Austria means he’s now Ireland’s leading scorer in this World Cup campaign. All that and – dodgy back notwithstanding – he was still prepared to run himself into the ground, the absolute lung-bursting personification of Irish passion.
CLASS ALWAYS TELLS IN THE END
The game may not have been one for the purists and, for most of the first half, you could hardly say that Wes Hoolahan was in his element, the little schemer getting muscled off the ball on more than one occasion. But class will out and, with Jon Walters having already come close to breaking the deadlock just before the break after Hoolahan and Robbie Brady had combined brilliantly on the left flank, the Norwich man showed exactly how critival he is to Ireland’s cause by sweeping the perfect pass into the path of McClean for the winner. Hoolahan, like the rest of his colleagues, also put in the hard yards to close down Austrian players but, ultimately, it was his ability to produce a moment of sheer class which helped define the night as one to remember for Ireland.
COLEMAN ALWAYS DELIVERS
With the departure of Robbie Keane, Ireland not only lost its most reliable goal-scorer but also its inspirational captain. Seamus Coleman has already done his bit to compensate for the former by scoring one of the weirdest but most welcome Irish goals ever, to claim three points against Georgia in Dublin. But as a leader by example, the Donegal man is now really coming into his own in the green shirt – not only a threat going forward but, as his brave and brilliant tackle to deny Marko Arnautovic a goal-scoring opportunity confirmed, the very man you want in the breach when danger threatens.
THERE’S STILL LIFE IN THE OLD DOG
We learned something about the pecking order of wingers on the bench. The manager had Aiden McGeady, Callum O’Dowda and the League of Ireland’s superstar candidate Daryl Horgan to call on if required, but it was to the old reliable McGeady he turned late on for a cameo which showed that the player who started it all off for O’Neill’s Ireland with a brilliant brace in Georgia back in 2014, still has something to offer. And while we’re on the subject of strength in depth, a deserved word of praise for David Meyler who was absolutely terrific in breaking up the play – and also played a significant role by starting off the move which led to the winning goal – after coming off the bench for the injured Glenn Whelan.