The Ireland squad flew out of Dublin to painfully familiar territory yesterday for their first test on the road under new management.
The stakes are clearly nowhere near as high as they were when they made the trip to Poznan in the summer of 2012 but, going into tomorrow night’s friendly against Poland, there is still the burden of expectation which comes with the hope that Friday’s convincing win over was not a false dawn.
What’s certain is that the Poles on their home turf will provide a much sterner test of the new Ireland’s credentials than did the compliant Latvians.
“Poland will be a tough test for the players,” says Martin O’Neill. “They have some real threats in their squad but we will try to play to our strengths and show the same focus we displayed against Latvia. The match will also provide me with an opportunity to look at some of the options we have within the squad.”
One of those options, goalkeeper David Forde, anticipates he’ll have a busier shift tomorrow night than Keiren Westwood had at the Aviva. “Poland are a really good side. They have Lewandowski and some top players. They were unlucky, like us, not to qualify so it should be an interesting game. We are all trying to prove ourselves to the new management and it’s an important time.”
Returning to the scene of the defeats to Croatia and Italy which book-ended Ireland’s miserable Euro 2012 is made a lot more bearable thanks to the collective pep in the step engendered by the appointment of Martin O’Neill and, of course, Roy Keane.
“The Euros was a difficult period and we were in a very, very difficult group,” Forde reflects. “I think a lot of people tend to forget about that. If you look at the side we played, two of them ended up in the final and Croatia were a top-class side at the time. So it was always going to be a difficult tournament but the way the performances went, we let ourselves down. Now, people are going to want to put it right and put on a better show.”
While the focus of attention this past couple of weeks has been almost exclusively on the manager and his assistant, Forde has been doing the bulk of his work on the training pitch under another new member of the team – albeit a returning one after a gap of a few years – in the form of veteran goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh.
“Seamus has been great,” says the Millwall number one. “Like all goalkeeping coaches, they all have their different things and different opinions and ideas on goalkeeping. You always learn something different and that has been important to me over the last few years.
“Now it’s Seamus and I am looking forward to learning extra off him to improve me as a keeper. He has worked with some top-class keepers down through the years and it can only be great for my development, hopefully.”
Meantime, with O’Neill announcing himself as an equal opportunity employer over his first two games, Forde knows it’s important he performs well tomorrow night.
“Nothing’s been said [about the jersey being up for grabs] but it’s the same for everybody,” he observes. “It’s early doors and the manager is trying to get a feel for everything. He’s trying to assess everything, whether it’s the squad, the training ground, everything is being checked out. It’s still very, very early at this stage.
“There are no ‘gimmes’. In every game you are on show and you have got to show what you can do. It’s about keeping your standards high and hopefully I can control what I do and do what I do best. Hopefully, that’s enough and the manager is happy with my performance.”
Ireland flew to Poland minus Andy Reid of Nottingham Forest and Joey O’Brien of West Ham, both forced to withdraw from the squad with hamstring problems.
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