Should Poland do Ireland the inestimable favour of eliminating Scotland by beating them in Hampden Park on Thursday night, then Martin O’Neill’s team will be certain of qualifying for a European Championship play-off place, even if they were to suffer successive defeats in their last two group games at home to Germany and away to Poland.
While that would scarcely be the most glorious way of going about it, Martin O’Neill was not shy yesterday about admitting he’ll happily take anything on offer so long as Ireland are still in contention for Euro 2016 in November. “If you were saying would I take the play-offs now, there’s no point in beating around the bush — yeah,” he said. “Whatever way you get into the play-offs, I’d take getting into the play-offs, regardless of who we play.”
O’Neill regards the Germany team which comes to the Aviva on Thursday as a stronger proposition than the side which was held to a 1-1 draw by Ireland in Gelsenkirchen 12 months ago.
The then-newly crowned world champions suffered an initial World Cup hangover last year but, lately, have rediscovered their groove in Euro qualifying and will arrive in Dublin as group leaders on the brink of securing qualification for the finals next year.
“I think they’re stronger now,” said O’Neill. “I think the hangover is almost natural. I think they possibly thought in some of the matches that they would (just) go on. Their slip-up was in Poland and yet at that particular time they’ve missed three or four chances. They would consider their biggest slip-up was against us at home and so that result was really fine for us. It kept us there. It kept our momentum going, having won a couple of matches before that. But I think they’re as strong now as they’ve been since the World Cup. That said, there is not a side playing, either club or country, that’s invincible.”
While the Irish will always have fond memories of John O’Shea’s sensational late equaliser in Gelsenkirchen, they would obviously much rather forget the last time the Germans were in town — the 6-1 thrashing at the Aviva in 2012 which, in his new book, then manager Giovanni Trapattoni describes as “humiliating”.
Three years on from that dark night, O’Neill is anxious to dispel any fear factor going into Thursday’s game. “You know yourselves what they’re capable of doing here, what they did here not that long ago in a match and, of course, you have to be careful of all those things. But if I start thinking about what they did here some time ago, I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.
“At some stage or other you’ve got to take the game to them. Somebody said, quite rightly, that you’ll have to learn to play without the ball. I think that’s almost ingrained in us anyway, that there’s international matches where you have to do that, particularly away from home. If it’s anything to go by, in the Scotland game, Germany have had loads and loads of possession and they’ve scored three goals. So it’s really important to be absolutely positive here and not to have any regret whatsoever about how we set up, how we want to try and approach the game, and how we want to get out of this group.”
The most pressing concern for the manager is Seamus Coleman who, while almost certain to miss the Germany game, could return for the match in Warsaw on Sunday. While the medical team continue to assess his recovery from a hamstring injury, they are also keeping an eye on his potential replacement, Cyrus Christie, who sat out training yesterday with a hip/groin issue.
“He’s hoping he’ll be all right,” said O’Neill “He’s been carrying it now for a couple of weeks. Again, we’ll see how he is. If Seamus didn’t make it, it would certainly be disappointing if Cyrus didn’t.”
The young Derby County full-back, who marked his competitive Irish debut with a goal against Gibraltar in September, told reporters that yesterday’s rest day was purely precautionary, and that he’ll be ready to step into Coleman’s shoes on Thursday, if required.
“You never know, Seamus’ injury could progress well and he could be back in,” he said. “We’re all professionals. You still prepare for the worst and anything could happen. He might not be fit and if the gaffer wants me to play, I’ll have to be ready. I’ll have to prepare right, as if I was playing.”
And if he was to be thrown in against the world champions, would the twice-capped 23-year-old find the challenge a daunting one? “Not really, I try to treat every game the same,” he smiled. “I am quite laid-back so, for me, I just sit there, listen to my music in the dressing room and the coach, and take it in my stride. I bring my headphones and listen to my own music up until we go out for the warm-up. It’s on shuffle so it could be anything, a bit of R&B to rap. It works.”
Meanwhile, O’Neill indicated that he hasn’t ruled out an appearance at some stage on Thursday or Sunday by Aiden McGeady, despite his recurring injury woes and chronic lack of game time at Everton.
“Absolutely, he’s an option,” said the manager. “I wouldn’t dismiss somebody with that talent. The fact is that if Aiden was fully fit, there’s a fairly decent chance he would be in the side. It’s just trying to get that sort of fitness again. But a little cameo role by him, 25 minutes or half an hour, you never know, might make the difference in a game.”
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