Martin O’Neill: We have a lot to live up to

After the rugby heroics on Saturday, Martin O’Neill last night admitted that his Irish team have "a lot to live up to" as they begin a week of preparations ahead of the meeting with Poland next Sunday.

And the newly named Senior Player of the Year John O’Shea made the point that Ireland really have to start making home advantage count.

“Poland is crucial,” he said, after collecting his award in RTE. “If we are going to qualify, it [home record] had to change, simple as that.”

Some positive news at the start of the week for O’Neill is that masked man Jon Walters is fit to play after coming on as a late substitute for Stoke City in their 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace.

And Glenn Whelan, although he missed the game with a tight hamstring, is also hopeful of being available for next Sunday’s crunch game at the Aviva.

Another previous injury doubt, Robbie Brady, came off the bench for Hull against Chelsea yesterday and though Aiden McGeady wasn’t in the squad for Everton’s meeting with QPR, manager Roberto Martinez declared the player fit to for the international fray after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Stoke striker Walters had looked a real doubt for next Sunday’s game after he underwent surgery only last Wednesday on a fractured cheekbone but the 31 year old striker donned a protective mask – and shook off the after-effects of anaesthetic — to come off the bench for his club on Saturday, leading manager Mark Hughes to give him a clean bill of health for the international week ahead.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s Everton contingent of James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman and Darron Gibson all came through their 2-1win against QPR.

O’Neill will be missing three players through injury – Anthony Pilkington, Jeff Hendrick and David McGoldrick – while his final 29-man squad also see Rob Elliot, Paul Green and Simon Cox fail to make the cut.

Meanwhile, John O’ Shea was last named the FAI Senior International Player Of The Year in recognition of a 2014 which saw him celebrate his 100th cap for his country with that dramatic late equalizer against Germany in Gelsenkirchen.

And UCD Waves winger Julie-Ann Russell was crowned the women’s Senior International Player of the Year.

Aiden McGeady’s memorable winner against Georgia was voted the Three International Goal of the Year while Derby’s Jeff Hendrick captured the Young International Player gong and Jack Grealish was crowned the U21 Player of the Year.

Last night the Aston Villa starlet confirmed that he’d told U21 boss Noel King he was taking a year out from international football to concentrate on his club career and later clarified that he planned to return to the green shirt in September.

Grealish, of course, is also eligible for England.

Former international, Colin Healy, was voted the SSE Airtricity League Player of the year for his hugely influential role in pushing Cork City to a second-place finish.

Another former Republic of Ireland midfielder, Andy Townsend, was inducted into the FAI Hall of Fame, while Polish legend JanTomaszewski was awarded the International Personality of the Year award.

Stephanie Roche shared the special merit award in recognition of her nomination for the prestigious FIFA Puskas Award with the Women’s U19 Squad for their remarkable journey to the semi-finals of the UEFA WU19 Championships in Norway.


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