If his team had been playing for points, Ireland would have four now, a healthy return for an opening home and away package.
But, for Martin O’Neill, last night’s scoreless draw in Poznan was all about the new Ireland making a point, his players showing that, after they’d thrived in the comfort zone of the game against Latvia, they could survive in adversity against a much more threatening Polish side playing on their admittedly threadbare home soil.
O’Neill conceded the game had not been “the most fantastic spectacle” but expressed considerable satisfaction with his team’s “terrific resilience” in sometimes trying circumstances.
“The pitch was very sticky and some divots came out of it early on but, that said, it was the same for both teams,” said the manager. “There were not many chances but we showed terrific resilience. We got a little bit tired towards the end but I was delighted with the players’ application.
“We started well and looked like we could have caused them a few problems but we got a bit ragged in the last 10 minutes of the first half, and gave the ball away a couple of times. Making the substitutions then disrupted our rhythm in the second half. I actually hadn’t realised I’d made that many changes, but getting all the players involved was always a major part of what I wanted to do over these first two games. But I didn’t want to get beaten either because that knocks confidence.
“There was still loads for me to take positively out of it, including the chance to see so many players. It’s been a really enjoyable start for me, a genuine pleasure, and it’s the same for Roy and Seamus McDonagh.
“Improvements? There’ll be times when we can deal with good possession a bit better but the level of the opposition tonight was not in question. Away from home, a draw was a good result in that sense, but there is lots we can improve on. Against Poland, it was tough going but we saw it through.
“International football is increasingly like that — teams not running away with matches too much. It would be nice to be hard to beat but you also want to feel you can pose an attacking threat. Aiden McGeady, as he showed again, has got terrific feet, and is a genuine danger. Sometimes he thinks he can dribble himself out of any position, even when he is having to defend, but in the final third he thrives on taking players on.”
For O’Neill, a striking contrast between club and international football now hits home — it will be March, and a friendly in Dublin against Serbia, before he next encounters his new players as a group.
“That’s the reality — I won’t see them for quite some time,” he said. “And I think I’ll be having withdrawal symptoms by Thursday — I might even be on the phone to one or two.”
Finally, the manager revealed the luckless Sean St Ledger’s night had been cut short by a groin problem.
“He knew he was in difficulty and immediately pointed to the touchline,” said O’Neill.
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