Polish loss will be a ‘big dent’ – O’Neill

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Martin O'Neill

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has admitted that defeat to Poland in tomorrow night’s crucial Euro 2016 qualifier at the Aviva Stadium will be a ‘big dent’ to the goal of automatic qualification for next summer’s tournament in France.

Speaking to media today in Malahide, O’Neill said that defeat tomorrow night ‘will be a big dent in proceedings’ in group D and his squad know that they ‘have to try and win the game.’

‘The importance of the occasion shouldn’t be missed. We played four games now and we’ve picked up seven points. I am delighted to have got something in the Germany game. Brilliant effort. Disappointing to lose at Scotland. I said all along the games at home will shape our destiny. This is the first one of a group of games. Nevertheless, a very important one against a team who have started brilliantly in the competition. It might not decide everything but it will be very important,” said the Republic’s manager.

The manager acknowledged that he has a far idea of who will be in his starting eleven but refused to divulge any names, keeping his cards close to his chest. He will name his team tomorrow ahead of the 7:45pm kick-off.

There were also mentions based on comments made by former Ireland player and assistant manager, Liam Brady, about James McCarthy and his passion in playing for the ‘Boys in Green.’

When these comments were put to him, O’Neill was adamant in his response, ‘I don’t need to question anyone’s passion for playing for Ireland. I genuinely feel that. We might not perform as well but that doesn’t mean players don’t want to play. Absolutely not,’ said O’Neill. He also noted McCarthy’s injury record and the fact the midfielder has only played once for Ireland in the past year (against Georgia last year).

O’Neill was also grilled about his starting formation. This morning’s early training session seemed to suggest a 3-5-2 formation with Stoke’s Jonathan Walters partnering captain Robbie Keane up front. The manager didn’t confirm or deny the formation. Rather, he noted that he and his staff must be aware that of any changes made to the system, the players must also be aware of it and be prepared to adapt. The manager seemed happy in the knowledge that his side were comfortable regardless of whatever system they may use.

He again repeated the point of adaptability when questioned if a 3-5-2 formation would suit Hull City’s Robbie Brady. He pointed to the fact that Brady has played in multiple formations due to his club side’s frequency to change things around.

Keane was full of praise for his potential partner, Walters. The captain said, ‘You know exactly what you get with Jon. He is very, very honest player. He makes it hard for defenders. He doesn’t give them a minute. He scores goals as well. Aside from that, he is a great person to have around. He is a good leader and it’s important to have players like that around the squad.’

As for Poland, the captain stressed that he wasn’t worried about them and that the team know everything about their opposition. He stated that it is now just a case for the players to turn up on the day and perform to the best of their ability. The captain is hoping to be named in tomorrow’s starting eleven, 17 years this week since his international debut against the Czech Republic.

Asked if Robert Lewandowski was the one Polish player to watch out for. O’Neill stressed that the opposition were not a one-man show and they had plenty of talent, capable of causing trouble to his side.

O’Neill told reporters, ‘I think he is a top class player and one of the best strikers in European football. He is playing for a side [Bayern Munich] that is capable of winning any competition in Europe. He is very, very important to them but he is not the only player.’

‘We have seen this in the group, they are not a one-man team. They have got a number of top quality individuals playing in the side, who are able to create things for them. I agree I wouldn’t just get carried away with the one player.’

Despite O’Neill’s comments to the contrary, tomorrow night’s result is make or break for this campaign. A win will help the Republic of Ireland’s cause in group D and will give them momentum heading into the next set of games in the summer. A loss will probably all but rule out Ireland of automatic promotion and they will, most likely, battle it out with Scotland for third place and a spot in the play-offs.

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Athlone leave Tolka with a famous victory

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Shelbourne fans in Tolka Park

It was third versus first in this top of the table clash in the League of Ireland First Division and it was the visitors who came away with all three points. It was their first victory against Shelbourne at Tolka Park since 1980.

The first half was all about Athlone Town. The midlands side dominated their hosts with slicker movement and passing. The home side were poor everywhere on the pitch. They couldn’t string many decent passes together, except for the odd occasion where they were allowed time in front of goal. However, they couldn’t make their efforts count with Alan O’Sullivan gifted an effort to slot home but was denied by the Athlone Town shot stopper, Shane Cusack.

The away side punished on the twentieth minute when Garbhan Coughlan was allowed to make his way through the box and slotted the ball past Shels keeper, Greg Murray. That goal was the first conceded by the home side in the league so far. The second goal followed not soon after when Eric Foley was brought down 25 to 30 yards out. He lined up his effort perfectly. The midfielder cracked the shot with some power and ball nestled into the top right hand corner of the goal.

It was much of the same for the rest of the half with Shels failing to hold on to possession and Athlone attempting to extend their lead. Shelbourne manager, Kevin Doherty was visibly upset with his side, even going as far as taking Jake Donnelly off after twenty-five minutes, replacing him with Mark Sandford.

Doherty went on to make two additional substitutions at half time with Gareth Coughlan and Jordan Keegan replacing Colm Crowe and Alan O’Sullivan respectively. His switches helped his side improve somewhat but they were still guilty of giving their visitors plenty of space in which to pass and work their way towards goal.

Shelbourne nearly got a goal back after 58 minutes when Mark Sandford was played in on goal. His effort was tipped over Cusack. The best effort the home side had in front of goal.

The game seemed like it was about to fizzle out after the Shelbourne chance with both sides reduced to long efforts at goal including efforts for Philip Gorman and Gareth Coughlan for Athlone and Shelbourne respectively.

However, with only two minutes of normal time to play, Shelbourne substitute, Gareth Coughlan, scored from a low free kick that made its way into the bottom right hand corner. The decibels went up a notch or two inside Tolka Park as the home fans appealed to their players to pick up the pace and try and grab a late equaliser.

Another Shels goal was not to be though. However, the visitors were to add to their tally. Ryan Robinson brought down an oppent on the edge of the box, which led to an Athlone free kick. Up stepped substitute Daniel Purdy with a cracking effort into the top right hand corner. His first goal for the club. Tolka Park fell silent as the visiting fans celebrated a famous victory.

Shels will now look to bounce back in their next fixture, an away trip next Friday night, at the Regional Sports Centre to face Waterford United. Meanwhile, Athlone Town, still undefeated, will be at home for their next game, against Wexford Youths, also next Friday night.

SHELBOURNE: Murray, O’Connor, Osam, Robinson, Doyle (C), Donnelly (Sandford 25′), Kehoe, Walsh, Hughes, Crowe (Coughlan 45′), O’Sullivan (Keegan 45′)

Substitutes: Ryan, Earley, Rodriguez, Gannon
Goals: Coughlan (88′)
Yellow Cards: Kehoe (12′), Crowe (43′), Walsh (77′),  Robinson (91′)

ATHLONE TOWN: Cusack, Quigley (C) (Gaul 65′), Hand, Dunne, Collins, Foley, Chindea (Purdy 68′), Boyne, Gorman (Burke 83′), Coughlan, Doyle

Substitutes: Doolin, Brady, O’Connor, Durican
Goals: Coughlan (20′), Foley (23′), Purdy (93′)
Yellow Cards: Gorman (31′), Coughlan (80′), Collins(87′), Foley (89′)

Referee: Simon Roger

Attendance: 718

Top of the table clash as Shelbourne host Athlone Town

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Tolka Park

It’s first versus third in this early clash of title contenders as Shelbourne host Athlone Town at Tolka Park. The two sides are on equal points with the sides separated on goal difference.

The home side drew their opening game of the season 0-0, at Tolka Park to Finn Harps. They have since followed that up with impressive 1-0 wins away to UCD and Cabinteely respectively. Shels also progressed into the second round of the EA Sports Cup with a fine victory away to Premier Division side Drogheda United. They will be travelling back to Louth in the next round, as they face reigning champions and reigning Premier Division champions, Dundalk.

The visitors also drew their opening fixture of the season after a very late equaliser prevented Athlone coming away with the full three points at Waterford United. The Town went on to win comfortably against Cobh Ramblers, 4-0 and secured a 2-1 victory away to UCD. Athlone crashed out of the EA Sports Cup, losing 3-0 away to an in-form Bohemians’ side.

In the last 10 meetings between the sides, Shelbourne have been victorious seven times, while there have been three draws. Athlone Town will know that defeat here, while still early days, will put them on the back foot on what will be a competitive season ahead.

Speaking ahead of Friday’s game, Shelbourne manager, Kevin Doherty said, “Athlone are a team of quality players. I have watched them and have had them watched. It will be difficult but we feel that we have prepared well for the game and we’re now looking forward to Friday.”

Shelbourne are still without Simon Dixon and Paul Andrews. The former still some weeks away, while Andrews expects to be back in the next two weeks. Dylan McGlade limped out of a friendly against Newbridge Town on Tuesday night with a hamstring injury and will also miss out on Friday. Adam O’Connor did come through that game at Station Road and will be in contention for a starting position against Athlone. Manager, Doherty, has no suspensions to contend with.

The home side will also be without Sean Heaney, who scored the winner against UCD two weeks ago. The on-loan defender is away on international duty with Paul Doolin’s Under 19s in Germany.

Athlone Town have no suspensions but manager, Eddie Wallace, may be without Brian Shortall. The defender is nearing fitness but is still a doubt ahead of the trip to his former club.

Honours even for Shels and Harps in league opener

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Shelbourne fans in Tolka Park

The familiar booming sounds blared around Tolka Park as the new First Division season kicked off with hosts Shelbourne welcoming their visitors from Donegal, Finn Harps. Both sides came into this fixture after mixed results in pre-season and were hoping to start their campaign with a vital three points. However, after an entertaining 99 minutes (the nine minutes were added due to a lengthy stop in play) with numerous chances on goal and, at times, tempers flaring, it was to end with both sides earning a point each that left them both sitting two points behind surprise early league leaders, Cabinteely.

It was all Shelbourne in the opening 25 minutes. The home side controlled the game and kept possession neatly but couldn’t manage to put away any of their early chances. Striker Philly Hughes will be scratching his head and thinking how he didn’t manage to score at least one goal in this game. In reality, he could have had a hat trick coming off the pitch at full time after numerous attempts on goal. He was denied a place on the score sheet by an impressive Ciaran Gallagher. The striker was gifted the ball beautifully several times and had plenty of space but his efforts went directly into the hands of Gallagher.

Finn Harps also had a few attempts on goal. Their best effort in the first half lay at the feet of Tony McNamee. The forward was gifted the ball with a fine cross from captain Michael Funston but his effort was palmed away by a super save from Shels keeper Greg Murray. They also had a chance in the second half to steal the win. Regan Donelon’s corner was met by the head of Tommy McMonagle but his effort was cleared off the line.

The last 15 minutes of normal time saw tempers flare between the sides. There was a nasty clash of heads between Shelbourne’s Paul Andrews and Harp’s Raymond Foy. The former of the two came out worse for wear and had to be replaced by Simon Dixon.

The replacement didn’t last long on the pitch. The defender seemed to be knocked unconscious after another clash of heads and medical staff spent several minutes on the pitch before taking Dixon off on a stretcher. The nasty injury didn’t extinguish the flames though as Harp’s substitute Wilfried Togbo fouled a Shels player, almost immediately, right in front of the home side’s dugout and got in to a small scuffle with a member of Shels’ backroom staff.

Manager Kevin Doherty’s programme notes where entitled “A Fresh Start.” While his side should have put away their chances, he will upbeat by their performance and will look towards what he will hope will be a successful season for the Tolka Park side. For Finn Harps, they should be heaping the praise on goalkeeper Gallagher. The youngster will be happy in the knowledge that he kept his side in the game and that he kept a clean sheet despite an onslaught from Hughes early in the game.

Shels will now look towards their next fixture, an away trip to Drogheda on Tuesday night in the EA Sports Cup. Meanwhile, Finn Harps will be on the road again for their next game, also in the EA Sports Cup, against Galway United on Monday night in Eamon Deacy Park.

SHELBOURNE: Murray, O’Connor (Doyle 67′), Osam, Heaney, Andrews (Dixon 77′, Kehoe 86′), Crowe, Coughlan, Walsh (C), Hughes, Keegan, Earley

Substitutes: Ryan, Sandford, Donnelly, O’Sullivan
Yellow Cards: Coughlan (97′), Hughes (99′)

FINN HARPS: Gallagher, McNulty, Crossan (Togbo 67′), Cowan, McMonagle, Foy, Funston (C), Mailey, Keating, McNamee (McGroary 60′), Doneglan (O’Callaghan 76′)

Substitutes: McCarron,Black, McHugh, Friel
Yellow Cards: Cowan (43′)

Referee: John McLoughlin