Greatest league in the world
Before a ball was kicked, the sight of seven former Cork City players in the Republic of Ireland’s starting eleven and two ex-Dundalk representatives sitting on the bench was a timely reminder of the League of Ireland’s gradual improvement, writes Ger McCarthy.
Granted, fielding so many graduates in an injury-hit Irish squad for a friendly against Iceland does not mean our national league has become an overnight sensation, far from it.
Yet, positive U17 and U19’s international results this past fortnight allied with a large number of home-grown talent cutting their teeth at senior level suggests Irish football’s grass-roots is in its healthiest state for some time.
The Coleman conundrum
Seamus Coleman’s lengthy injury layoff has opened the door for Cyrus Christie to stake a claim for the starting right-back berth in Martin O’Neill’s side.
The 24-year-old didn’t do his chances any harm with a relatively assured display against Iceland but sterner tests lie ahead especially at home to Austria later this summer.
Derby County’s defender has only seven senior caps to his name but the reality is that Ireland’s right-back position is Christie’s to lose due to the fact there are so few readymade alternatives.
Robbie Brady’s significance to the Republic of Ireland setup was never more apparent following last Friday’s scoreless World Cup qualifying draw at home to Wales.
Devoid of Brady’s accuracy from set pieces, Ireland made little impact in the final third. Although struggling to get into the game for long stretches against Iceland, the Irish captain was a willing contributor from his left-back position, linking well with midfield and attack.
The Burnley playmaker remains one of the first names on the Irish team sheet but as evidenced against Iceland, Brady needs to play further up the pitch to better influence Ireland’s attacking options.
Debutants make their case
Brentford defender John Egan and Aston Villa midfielder Conor Hourihane made their full international debuts and each player can be content with their efforts.
Lining up alongside Derby’s Alex Pearce in the heart of Ireland’s back four, Egan didn’t shirk a tackle but was guilty of giving away the free-kick that led to Hordur Magnusson’s winning strike.
Partnering Jeff Hendrick in central midfield, Hourihane was tidy in possession but spent most of the evening chasing down Iceland attackers before being withdrawn. Bottom line, Egan and Hourihane still have a way to go before cementing a regular place in Martin O’Neill’s squad.
O’Neill has options in attack
One of the biggest plus points for Martin O’Neill following the Iceland friendly were Daryl Horgan, Callum O’Dowda and Eunan O’Kane’s positive displays.
The introduction of those second half substitutes injected some much-needed enthusiasm into the Republic of Ireland’s attack and all three helped push Iceland back for much of the final quarter.
Johnny Hayes and Kevin Doyle also put in workmanlike performances underling the potential attacking options at the Irish manager’s disposal in the coming months.