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.