By Ger McCarthy
What we learned from tonight's friendly against France.
Lost in transition
Declan Rice’s deployment in a five-man Republic of Ireland midfield was the clearest pre-match sign that Martin O’Neill had no intention of experimenting with a more expansive game plan. So it proved with the visitors conceding 83% possession and two awful goals in the opening half.
On the plus side, Ireland kept their shape and frustrated a technically superior French team for long periods.
Bringing on Graham Burke was also a significant moment as the Shamrock Rovers midfielder became the first League of Ireland player to represent his country since 2007.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from a difficult night in Paris is that this Irish team is in transition, and requires an injection of youth and quality before dreams of returning to a major international tournament can become a reality.
Missing in action
A quick glance at the individuals unavailable to O’Neill for Monday’s friendly only hastens the importance of unearthing emerging talent over the coming months.
John O’Shea (retired), Daryl Murphy (retired), Wes Hoolahan (retired), James McCarthy, Aiden McGeady, Sean Maguire, Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady (all injured) were marked absent handing Derrick Williams, Alan Browne, Declan Rice and Callum O’Dowda an opportunity against quality opposition.
UEFA’s League of Nations tournament begins next September with a tricky away tie in Wales yet none of the aforementioned quartet (with the exception of Williams) enhanced their chances of inclusion against France.
Encouraging results at underage level aside, it appears the current Republic of Ireland senior squad will lean heavily on their experienced core if Euro 2020 qualification is to be attained.
C’est la vie
France take on Italy in Nice and the USA in Lyon before departing for Russia but a Didier Deschamps side packed with pace and attacking endeavour looks in decent shape ahead of the tournament.
Drawn in Group C of this year’s World Cup alongside Australia, Denmark and Peru, Les Bleus will be expected to better their 1-0 quarter-final exit to eventual winners Germany in Brazil four years ago.
Much will depend on Hugo Lloris, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann’s form but the French manager has been spoilt for choice considering Anthony Martial, Kingsley Coman, Adrien Rabiot and Alexandre Lacazette were deemed surplus to requirements.
Between the sticks
Bradford City goalkeeper Colin Doyle was handed the number one jersey in Paris and performed capably in the absence of Darren Randolph and Keiren Westwood until an uncharacteristic mistake ended any hopes of a positive result.
Winning his third cap, it is worth noting that Doyle did well to deny Benjamin Mendy, Kylian Mbappe and Oliver Giroud before the latter hammered home a close-range rebound.
Yet, in a bad week for the goalkeepers union, 32-year-old Doyle will be bitterly disappointed with France’s second goal, allowing Nabil Fekir’s straightforward attempt to float in off an outstretched glove.
Darren Randolph remains Martin O’Neill’s number one goalkeeper and is unlikely to be challenged for that position anytime in the near future.