Spirit warrants credit but drawing habit may be costly

CAUGHT LATE: Ireland striker Jonathan Walters is tackled by Poland's Lukasz Szukata in last night's Euro 2016 qualifier at the Aviva Stadium.Picture: Donall Farmer

At the very least, there’s absolutely no doubting Ireland’s spirit. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a fair few doubts about this team, however, and their ability to qualify for Euro 2016. 

Spirit can take you an awful long way, but it may not be enough to take Ireland to France. This is the thing with late goals.

As uplifting and mood-transforming as they are, the reasons they are required shouldn’t be overlooked. Ireland were atrocious in the first half, and it seemed to sum up the worst of the latter part of Martin O’Neill’s career. 

The second half at least recalled some of the best of his earlier career, given that there was an invigorating intensity about Ireland that so badly shook Poland.

One stark truth remains, though; O’Neill’s side have still only drawn with one of the teams they really should be beating, and it’s difficult to see this team getting enough wins to finish in the top three of this group.

It feels like it might be the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign all over again, when too many draws left Ireland fourth in the group and Brian Kerr out of a job.

That brings us to another stark truth: Ireland don’t play in the best way to actually go and win in the modern international game.

Consider what happened in the second half, when the side did pick up. All that really changed was the tempo and intensity of how they were doing things.

The general pattern of play was the same. Get it out wide and cross it in, or hope for a set-piece.

That predictability becomes apparent when you list the moments of danger.

They amounted to a deflected Robbie Brady cross that hit the post, three crosses for Jon Walters to head ever, one which Seamus Coleman blazed wide and another for Robbie Keane to hit a post. And then there was a series of set-pieces. Most of those were atrociously hit. That is a big concern when it’s one of your main weapons.

The other big concern from the game was the role of Robbie Keane, and it is a huge factor in the lack of innovation in the football.

We’re coming to the point where he’s not offering enough goals to cover for his lack of general play.

The header that hit the post summed it up. That’s what he’s meant to be there for, to take those big chances, but he fluffed it. Otherwise, he did absolutely nothing else, other than get in Coleman’s way when Ireland finally produced some productive football.

The big argument in starting Keane over Shane Long is that the latter just misses too many chances that the older striker would take so easily.

Yet, is that really still true? Can that be said about the current Keane, who looked as if the game was totally passing him by? This was a far cry from the MLS, which says something in itself, given how brittle the Poles are.

This is the issue with Keane, and it’s become more stark over the past year; if he isn’t scoring, he’s offering absolutely nothing.

Ireland were somewhat lucky that Poland bottled their lead, and essentially panicked. In fairness, Long and James McClean did cause a lot of that panic. There was finally some movement around the box, and Keane’s lack of mobility wasn’t such an issue.

Of course, Keane isn’t the only issue. There just isn’t that much innovation to O’Neill’s play. It’s so basic, and thereby absolutely no coincidence that they look like his moribund Sunderland team. Wes Hoolahan was one of the few players offering creativity, but didn’t always have the outlet.

All of this may seem a downer after the drama and emotion of a late goal, but the reality is that Ireland are going to have considerably up their game. They’ve already lost some initiative in this group with the defeat in Glasgow.

They needed to make that up last night, and couldn’t.

Now, they have it all to do against Scotland in June. It remains to be seen whether they can do enough.

That will be an occasion when a late equaliser won’t be worth the same level of celebration.

For the moment, O’Neill and Ireland can be happy with how it ended. The danger is the drawing habit will also end their chances of qualification.

READ MORE: Long road remains to France ’16


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