By Ger McCarthy
Positives to be taken despite the defeat
It is only four months since Nicklas Bendtner converted a late penalty to put the seal on a 5-1 Danish World Cup play-off victory at the Aviva Stadium. Moving on from that horrific night was important for Martin O’Neill, his squad and Irish supporters but a disjointed performance and subsequent 1-0 loss away to Turkey has done little to lift the gloom.
Despite the defeat, there were positives from Ireland’s trip to Antalya with Declan Rice’s composed defensive display representing one of the more impressive international debuts in recent times.
Rice’s diligent distribution, having moved into midfield, bodes well for the 19-year-old’s future prospects at international level.
Seamus Coleman was a welcome sight on his return from injury and slotted into his right-back role with ease. Goalkeeper Colin Doyle could do little about Turkey’s winner during a solid if unspectacular display. Daryl Horgan produced a busy cameo on the wing and Alan Judge was another to return from long-term injury, adding to the positives on an otherwise uneventful evening.
A more adventurous approach
Martin O’Neill’s decision to deploy an experimental 3-5-2 formation was a welcome development, albeit during a scrappy game, and an opportunity to experiment with two forwards rather than the usual over-reliance on a sole striker.
Following on from defeat in Turkey, developing a new identity for the Irish national team will be as important as enhancing incoming talent such as Scott Hogan, Declan Rice and Alan Browne. Finding the formation that best suits the small pool of raw material at O’Neill’s disposal will go a long way to delivering positive League of Nations and Euro 2020 campaigns.
In Antalya, Ireland’s manager showed he might be willing to adopt a more adventurous approach to achieve those goals. That, in itself, is welcome news.
We need new heroes
The need to uncover a new scoring hero at the apex of Ireland’s attack has never been more prevalent when you consider James McLean (4 goals), Daryl Murphy (3) and Shane Duffy (2) were the Republic’s top scorers at the conclusion of the previous World Cup qualifying campaign.
Not since Robbie Keane donned the number ten jersey has the Irish senior team had a proven international goalscorer amongst its ranks.
Shane Long’s ongoing drought for club and country plus Daryl Murphy’s retirement from international football means Sean Maguire and Scott Hogan need to grasp their opportunity and start finding the net.
Hogan went close from an acute angle and Maguire put in a decent shift but more quality is required from both newcomers when representing a Republic of Ireland team crying out for goals.