Having seen his side take over 45 minutes to get going against Georgia, Martin O’Neill wants his team on the front foot for the visit of world champions Germany next month.
“If we sat in all night against Germany and hoped for something and they beat us, I don’t think we’d feel all that great,” the manager said at his squad announcement yesterday.
“We’re not blessed with phenomenal pace in the team so we’re not going to be breaking with three boys with blinding pace who could take guys on one on one. So sitting in all night against Germany would be tantamount to disaster at the end.
“So let’s start when we meet up, let’s be as positive as we can be and have a proper go — but be sensible about it. Against Germany we have to be really on it from the start and try and stay with it.”
One of O’Neill’s go-to guys, Glenn Whelan, will miss the game through suspension but the manager feels he already has a ready-made replacement should he continue with his midfield diamond configuration.
“Interestingly, James McCarthy plays the holding role at Everton, more so perhaps that what I am sometimes asking him to do for us so I think that he should probably be able to fulfil that role in the manner in which Glenn does,” he said.
“I don’t think it should be a major problem for him to slot into that role for a one-off thing.”
Whether Stephen Quinn comes in to fill the resultant midfield gap remains to be seen, as does whether O’Neill opts to use Aiden McGeady, even if off the bench, in the absence, also through suspension, of James McClean.
(And on McClean’s costly yellow card challenge against Georgia, O’Neill quipped yesterday: “He said that he thought that he got the ball but when someone threw the Georgian player’s leg back on to the pitch again he realised then that maybe he hadn’t).
Addressing the problem of McGeady’s chronic lack of game-time at Everton, O’Neill observed: “He is an important player because he can conjure something up and I have a good belief in his ability, but it would be much easier for him, psychologically too, to be stepping onto the field at any given time, starting or coming on in a match, knowing you are fully wound up, you’re as physically in as good a condition as you want to be — and that cannot be the case with him at this minute.”
As for Robbie Keane, it’s clear that his vast experience and record-breaking goal haul can’t guarantee him a starting berth next time out.
“I couldn’t tell you if he is capable of starting the two games or not,” said O’Neill. “I genuinely don’t know. I will see when he comes over and hopefully he is still fit. Is he still important to us? Of course he is.”
While O’Neill ponders his team selection — and keeps his fingers crossed that Seamus Coleman recovers in time from his hamstring problem — the manager is fully aware that the Scotland-Poland game in Hampden Park on the same night could have a big bearing on Ireland’s qualification chances.
Put at its simplest, a Polish victory in that game would guarantee Ireland a play-off place irrespective of all other results in the group.
A Scottish draw or victory on the other hand would significantly ratchet up the pressure on an Irish side which would then need a win from the final two games to ensure a third-place finish.
“It will be difficult to ignore what’s happening in the Scotland game,” he conceded, “but you have to try and concentrate on your own group, what you can do, and what you can’t, to a certain extent, control. Scotland will feel — speak to Gordon (Strachan) — they’ve as good a chance of qualifying as us. They will feel capable of beating Poland. But it won’t be easy, as Poland are a good side. The games aren’t easy. I said to you I felt Georgia would be a difficult game for Scotland. And I was concerned about our game against Gibraltar and then the Georgia game. You have to be. We have a good spirit about us, bit of talent here and there, but we can’t treat anybody lightly. We’re not that sort of side.”
Darron Gibson has been recalled to the provisional 40-man squad for the upcoming games while, with an eye on the longer-term, O’Neill revealed that he has had a “civil” conversation with the father of Arsenal’s Daniel Crowley about the dual-eligibility midfielder declaring for Ireland.
Roy Keane has also scouted the English-born player who is currently on loan at Barnsley and who, said O’Neill, “certainly looks like he possesses the ability to go on and become a really decent player”.
Republic of Ireland squad:
David Forde, Shay Given, Keiren Westwood, Darren Randolph, Rob Elliot; Richard Keogh, Marc Wilson, Seamus Coleman, Cyrus Christie, John O’Shea, Alex Pearce, Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark, Paul McShane, Stephen Ward, Greg Cunningham, Robbie Brady; James McCarthy, Jeff Hendrick, Darron Gibson, Harry Arter, Eunan O’Kane, Glenn Whelan, Paul Green, Aiden McGeady, James McClean, Alan Judge, Anthony Pilkington, Stephen Quinn, David Meyler; Jonathan Walters, Wes Hoolahan, Robbie Keane, Shane Long, Daryl Murphy, Kevin Doyle, Anthony Stokes, David McGoldrick, Adam Rooney, Simon Cox.
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