Ireland need to focus on winning mentality

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Aiden McGeady

Writing in his pre-match notes, Republic of Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill was clear that despite the numerous absentees from the Austrian squad that this match was going to be tough. The manager was also cooling the talk in the build-up to the match that a win in this game could allow the start of talk of booking the flight to Russia. “We have reached the half-way stage in our Group, so there are still a lot of points to play for, as you would expect. It has been a tough road so far and that will remain so until the last qualifying game,” said O’Neill.

Surely even the Irish manager didn’t expect his team to perform so poorly for most of the game against a weakened side. The Boys in Green started with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Jonathan Walters the lone striker. The layout of the team was a head-scratcher and questions will be asked of why O’Neill decided to start with two defending midfielders rather than go out with a more attacking intent.

The visitors, with their depleted side, emphasised an attacking approach lining out with a 4-3-3 formation and hoping to pile on the pressure on the home side. They did just that. The Irish were hopeless for the first half. Despite a better passing accuracy than the Austrians, the Irish just could not move the ball about and did not seem up for the match as a whole. Robbie Brady seemed disinterested and Shane Duffy unable to connect a pass from out of the back.

The home side’s formation choice didn’t last and was switched to a 4-4-2 with McClean joining Walters up front. This gave the Austrian defence a bit of trouble but the Irish passing or the lack thereof, gave little worry to the Austrians and it wasn’t until the last quarter of the game did the Irish turn up the attacking pressure on their visitors. It did pay off with five minutes to go as Walters gave it is all to beat a defender from a Brady long ball and slotted it into the bottom right hand of the goal. The Irish could and probably should have won it from there. Less than two minutes later, Shane Duffy’s head connected with the ball and it ended up in the back of the net. However, it was ruled a foul on an Austrian defender who ended up in the bottom of the net along with the ball. It was big call and the Irish will be frustrated by the decision. There was also another big decision with a potential penalty after it seemed as if Walters was tripped in the box by a defender. It was a soft challenge but it could have easily been ruled as a penalty any other day.

A real question needs to be asked though. After such a big build up to the game and the hope of three important points in the bag, do the Republic of Ireland have a problem with mentality when labeled as favourites? One only has to draw on the memories of the infamous 0-0 draw away to Liechtenstein over 20 years ago. Ireland was ninth in the world at the time and they were expected to stroll to an easy win against the minnows. Yet they left the small Central European nation with a point, something which was a major set back in the qualifiers for Euro ’96 which we ultimately did not qualify for.

However, fans and journalists alike need to look at the whole picture. The season has just ended with many of the players focused on the survival of relegation or promotion pushes. I can appreciate their willingness to focus on club careers. At the end of the day it is, it is the clubs who pay big money to ensure the players perform to the best of their ability week in and week out. However, you would like to see the players cap off their season with a strong performance for their International side especially after such a strong start to the group. Austria was there for the taking even missing defender Andreas Ulmer who decided to get married instead of helping his nation to a possible victory. That was the kind of thing Ireland should have jumped upon and ensured a strong narrative in the group moving towards the latter stages of qualifying.

An old Roy Keane quote came to mind after the Republic’s controversial loss to France in the 2010 World Cup playoff. “France were there for the taking and Ireland didn’t do it. Same old story,” said Keane, then manager of Ipswich Town. “I’d focus on why they didn’t clear it. I’d be more annoyed with my defenders and my goalkeeper than Thierry Henry. How can you let the ball bounce in your six-yard box? How can you let Thierry Henry get goal-side of you? If the ball goes into the six-yard box, where the hell is my goalkeeper?” I wonder if this will be ringing in Keane’s mind watching back on the Austrian goal. A strike from Martin Hinteregger after a ball from a David Alaba corner.

In his post-match comments, O’Neill made light to the fact that the corner was a result of a move that started from an Austrian handball, Dragović the culprit. While almost everyone in the Aviva would agree that it was a handball by the defender. Surely, the Irish should have cleared the ball or have done a better job at marking during an attacking set piece? I am sure the management will, of course, look at this behind closed doors and will analyse the goal in the aftermath of the game but it is a tad egregious to blame the refereeing for the goal, despite the referee having a poor game.

However, there were some standout players in the match for the home side. Both Jonathan Walters and James McClean paced around the pitch looking for the right pass or attempting to get into some space to create a movement. The Stoke City man, in particular, was allowed little opportunity to create much for most of the game, being marked tightly by Bayer Leverkusen’s Aleksandar Dragović. McClean also had a moment to equalise the game with ten minutes remaining but hit the ball first time and striking it high and wide.

Kevin Long also had a fine first start in central defence and he will be hoping to cause a selection headache for his manager when selecting the sides for the next set of games in September. O’Neill was impressed with the former Cork City player’s handling of the pressure of being selected for such an important fixture.

The result will no doubt be welcomed by the Serbians, who kick-off later in evening against Wales, who themselves desperately need a result to keep their World Cup dreams alive ahead of a home fixture against the Austrians in September.

The Irish will now be keeping a close eye on the fixture this evening with O’Neill, Keane and the rest of the Irish management going back to the drawing board in the morning to study what Ireland need to fix ahead of the last four remaining fixtures of this qualifying stage. A little bit of encouragement and belief that this squad can qualify for its first World Cup in 16 years will no doubt help but as the manager suggested in his pre-match notes there a long road ahead with points to be won and lost by all the sides in this group. Hopefully, for Ireland’s sake and those who follow the Boys in Green, there is more won than lost.

REP. OF IRELAND: Randolph, Christie, Long, Duffy, Ward (Murphy 55′), Brady, Whelan (C) (McGeady 77′), Hendrick, Arter (Hoolahan 71′), McClean, Walters

Substitutes: Westwood, Doyle, Pearce, O’Shea, Keogh, O’Kane, Horgan, Hourihane, Hayes
Goals: Walters (85′)
Yellow Cards: Brady (29′), Christie (32′)

Austria: Lindner, Lainer, Dragović, Prödl, Hinteregger, Baumgartlinger, Junuzović (Grillitsch 79′), Alaba, Lazaro, Burgstaller (Harnik 75′), Kainz (Gregoritsch 90′)

Substitutes: Bachmann, Kuster, Wimmer, Laimer, Stangl, Schaub, Klein, Danso, Alar
Goals: Hinteregger (31′)

Referee: David Fernández Borbalan (ESP)

 

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O’Neill ‘delighted’ with assistant Keane

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Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane at Republic of Ireland training

Original article appears on Pundit Arena.

Ahead of Tuesday’s friendly match with the USA, most of the discussion at today’s press conference with Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill was around his assistant manager Roy Keane and his actions of late. O’Neill was quick to defend Keane but seem irked at having to talk about his assistant rather than the players and the game ahead.

The Toffees not so sweet

At a press conference on Sunday evening, Keane blasted Everton for their behaviour in regards to releasing players to the Irish squad in particular Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy. Asked if his comments will have a distraction on the team, O’Neill said, “Every single time that you mention Roy, there either seems to be a distraction or another issue. Let me tell you straight, I’m delighted to have him. He has been terrific, really terrific. He has been great around the lads, he has been everything I wanted him to be.”

“There are some things that materialise, that aren’t of his doing to begin with. He has a mind of his own, He can say what he wants. Unless, it is absolutely and utterly in contradiction in what I’m saying to you then I do not have a problem with it. It is not an issue all the time,” said the manager.

Speaking about Keane’s comments regarding the club, Everton chairman Bill Kenwright, speaking to Sky Sports, said “I am a big fan of Roy Keane but he does say some stupid things. That is just totally, totally unfair. We absolutely love our players going on international duty. We would never, ever get in that way of that. Roberto Martinez will be as shocked as everyone at Everton Football Club.”

When made aware of Kenwright’s comments, and asked if he will speak to the Everton manager, O’Neill responded, “I think that I will talk [talk to him]. It is not my job to read the newspapers every single morning. Honestly, I have other things at this minute to do. I’m not saying they are more important but they are issues I have to address. So, I might get a chance to go down there and find out exactly what was said on both sides and then I will take a view.”

Grealish indecision

The manager was also asked about comments made by Roy Keane about Jack Grealish and his father over the young Aston Villa winger’s indecision to choose between the Republic of Ireland and England. Speaking to the media yesterday, Keane said, “I don’t ask Jack anymore. Sometimes it’s respect, you don’t want to pester people but, unfortunately, a lot would be coming from Jack’s dad. Knowing his dad, we could be waiting a bloody long while.”

Speaking about Keane’s comments, the manager said, “I have spoken to Jack and his father some time ago. They were not in any great hurry at that particular time. I left it entirely up to them. If Jack pulls out of the U-21’s and wants to concentrate on his club football, good luck to him. I understand Roy is not going to be running around there asking Jack’s father every single day has he made his mind up, let them decide themselves.”

Pushed on the topic and asked if the sentiment of the message was not pleasant, there was an awkward silence in the room as O’Neill felt he did not need to add to what he had already said.

Christie and McGoldrick set for Irish debuts

In terms of Tuesday’s game, O’Neill confirmed that both Robbie Keane and Darron Gibson will miss out, with both returning to their clubs. Gibson is out due to a slight knee injury. Keane has returned to LA Galaxy to prepare for their MLS Western Conference Championship game this weekend.

Newcomers to the squad, Cyrus Christie and David McGoldrick will start the game according to the manager. Asked about whether or not it was a relief to have a natural right back in the shape of Christie in the squad, O’Neill commented, “Yeah, very much so. That’s something we are looking at obviously. Of course, there is young [Matt] Doherty at Wolves and [Brian] Lenihan as well who has just gone out on loan. I have seen a lot of Cyrus play and I think that he has shown a real keenness to come and join us, which is good. I think he is looking forward to it and at least, it is a natural position for him rather than having to make do with David [Meyler] at full back.”

Tuesday’s game will undoubtedly be a great test for an Irish squad that is low on morale after the agonising defeat to Scotland. However, it will be interesting to see if players like Christie and McGoldrick can take their opportunity to start with both hands and stake a claim for the next qualifier against Poland in March. O’Neill believed it will be a good test for a number of players that didn’t feature on Friday night’s defeat. A win and a good performance against the American’s, even if it is only a friendly, will be a small boost ahead of the crunch match against the Poles next year.

 

O’Neill Refuses To Look Past Gibraltar

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Republic of Ireland Team

Original article appears on Pundit Arena.

Punch-ups, voicemails and a ‘f**king p***k’ were the talking points this week in the lead up to the Euro 2016 qualifier between the Republic of Ireland and Gibraltar. Thankfully, this was not a bust up in the Irish dressing room rather it was the spicy details leaked from the Republic’s assistant manager, Roy Keane’s new autobiography that has overshadowed the preparations for this game.

However, manager Martin O’Neill refuses to indulge in questions about the former Manchester United skipper’s book. He would rather talk about Saturday’s match, a match in which he hopes to win ahead of the trip to Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday where they will meet World Champions, Germany.

O’Neill is refusing to look ahead though. He is adamant that his team’s focus is purely on the minnows. He knows that with a lack of focus there could be an almighty upset. “We have to win the game, it’s really just as simple as that. We have to win the match. This is very important for us. There are three points on offer, we have to go and win the game,” stated the Derry man.

O’Neill discussed how his Polish counterparts were ‘relieved’ to get the first goal in their game against Gibraltar. It had been a shaky start but the Polish really came into their own after taking a 1-0 lead into the break, they went on to win 7-0. Commenting on that game he said, “They found it difficult. They scored a host of goals towards the end of the game but they said they’d found it difficult. And I wasn’t sure what they meant until I watched the game. And, honestly, Gibraltar did cause a problem or two.”

There will be plenty of thought in regards to who makes the starting 11 on Saturday. One of the positions that will be of interest to fans and pundits alike is at right back, after Seamus Coleman was ruled out with a hamstring problem.

20 year-old Hull City right back Brian Lenihan was drafted into the squad as his replacement. It is dizzying times for the Cork man. Only a few months ago he was playing in Turner’s Cross for Cork City now he has signed with a Premier League side and could potentially make his debut for the Republic of Ireland senior team. However, the manger may be cautious to throw the new boy into the mix even though he stated that the Hull defender doesn’t look out of place in the training sessions.

Daryl Murphy will be another player looking to state his claim for a starting place at the Aviva. The Ipswich striker has scored five goals in six games, which has helped his team move into sixth place in the Championship table. The 31 year-old hasn’t started a game for the Republic since his debut against Ecuador in 2007. Since that occasion he has only made appearances from the bench, losing out to Shane Long and Kevin Doyle in partnering the perennial Robbie Keane.

With Germany ahead of them and the desire to qualify for 2016, the Irish squad will recognise that this is an important three points on offer. A slip up on Saturday for a draw, or dare say a loss, will undoubtedly dent the confidence ahead of the clash with the World Champions on Tuesday night.

Honeymoon is over for the Dream Team as Serbia hand O’Neill his first defeat

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Ireland vs SerbiaThe Dream Team of O’Neill and Keane returned to Dublin but it wasn’t the result they were looking for as the Serbians left with a victory over an Irish team, that at times showed some great skill but was still a work in progress.

It was close to being the perfect start for the Irish after James McClean sent in a cross that was struck well by Glenn Whelan into the back of net. The assistant referee ruled the goal offside after judging that Wes Hoolahan was offside. Hoolahan’s foot grazed the ball before going into the goal. However, replays showed that Hoolahan was played onside by Dušan Basta.

It didn’t take long for Ireland to put pressure on the Serbians once again. That pressure paid off when a mix up in communication between captain, Branislav Ivanović, and keeper, Vladimir Stojković, gifted Shane Long the ball, who, without hesitation, chipped the keeper perfectly to score the opening goal of the game.

Serbia then settled into the game and had a handful of chances at goal including a powerful header from Ivanović that was cleared off the line by James McCarthy.  Dušan Tadić also had a great effort on goal. The FC Twente midfielder’s effort from outside the box had to be tipped over the crossbar by David Forde. The Irish seemed to fall off the pace a bit as halftime approached and would carry this into the second half.

This was evident in the second half as Ireland instantly threw away their lead. Some poor play from Ireland, allowed Serbia to pick up the ball outside the box and Aleksandar Kolarov’s pass forced James McCarthy to attempt a block but instead he put the ball into the back of his own net. It was an unfortunate incident for Everton man, who up to that point was having a good game.

Ireland applied some pressure following the goal and Shane Long will be kicking himself that he didn’t restore Ireland’s lead after a perfect ball from Wes Hoolahan set Long on course for his second goal. However, the Hull City striker scuffed his shot after trying to chip the keeper and the look on his face after his attempt summed up his effort.

The Serbians then got the winning goal following some more poor play from Ireland, which led to a scramble in the box with the ball landing at the feet of Filip Dordević. It was an easy tap in for the striker, who played well throughout his time on the pitch.

Both goals summed up the work that needs to be done when the team meets up again. Seamus Coleman had a disappointing game. The Everton defender seemed to lose the ball easily and it could be argued that he was at fault for both of Serbia’s goals.

There were positives to take away from the game though as the combination of Wes Hoolahan and Shane Long looked promising, James McClean also looked well on the flanks, James McCarthy also performed well in the centre of midfield even with his own goal.

The final score was not what fans were looking for, but as Roy Keane had suggested previously the job at hand is a “work in progress” and that was visible. Another test will come in May, as the Boys in Green take on another higher-ranking team in the shape of Fatih Terim’s Turkey.

We are trying to build spirit and confidence – Keane

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Republic of Ireland training sessionIt was a sunny but cold morning on Dublin’s coast as the Republic of Ireland squad trained at Gannon Park. Manager, Martin O’Neill, and his assistant, Roy Keane, kept a close eye on proceedings in Malahide as the Boys in Green prepared for the clash with Serbia on Wednesday night.

There were few concerns regarding injuries at today’s training session. Damien Delaney suffered a knock in Crystal Palace’s 1-1 draw with Swansea at the weekend and will join up with the squad later today, according to assistant manager Roy Keane.

John O’Shea will also fly into Dublin later today after his side, Sunderland, lost to Manchester City in the Capital One Cup Final on Sunday afternoon. Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington sat out training due to their participation in Norwich City’s 4-1 loss to Aston Villa on Sunday evening. A game, in which, the former of the two players scored the opening goal of the game.

QPR keeper, Brian Murphy is a late addition to the squad replacing Rob Elliot. The Newcastle keeper misses the game due to a knee problem.

The manager has already lost 4 members of his initial 29-man squad with the withdrawals of Andy Reid, Kevin Doyle and Rob Elliot. O’Neill has rested Richard Dunne so he can get more game time at QPR and be prepared for the end of season friendlies. Andy Reid misses the Serbia game due to surgery on a hernia, which is expected to keep him out of action for up to 6 weeks. Meanwhile, QPR striker, Kevin Doyle has a thigh problem.

Keane praised Reid’s performances of late for Nottingham Forrest. However, he was quick to point out that injuries are part of the game of football. “I’ve seen Reid a few times this year, he has been outstanding. So he is a loss, but that’s the name of the game, players will get injured, particularly at this stage of the season with a lot of demands on them,” said Keane.

When asked about a possible team selection, Keane was quick to respond that the management will have to wait until they hear back from the players and then decided tonight how to dictate training tomorrow ahead of a team selection for Wednesday’s game.

The former Irish captain was asked about the importance of Wednesday night’s match with the high-ranking Serbia but dismissed prioritising games and signalling that each game was as important as the next. “There’s nothing but benefits when winning a game of football”, according to Keane, who also suggested the need to build a spirit before the team goes its separate ways and meets up again at the season’s end.

The assistant manager also shared his thoughts on Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualifying group. Commenting on the group, Keane said, “It’s very tough, but one we are looking forward to. I know I keep saying we are going to be up against some good teams but we are a good team. So roll on September, we’ll be ready.”

Keane also admitted that his new role had changed the way he looked at games. “Obviously, you have a different mind-set. First and foremost when you go to a match, you keep your fingers’ crossed that the lads are playing. I can go to the games and enjoy the contribution the Irish lads have been giving to their teams. Of course, my mind-set is that is my priority. Before, I would just be going to a match as a fan of football and now it is to make sure the Irish lads are getting involved and doing well,” commented Keane.

Ireland’s assistant manager was also asked about his comments midweek about his old club, Manchester United’s performance in the Champions League against Olympiakos and whether he would say the same to the Irish team if they put on a similar performance. The Cork man thought that his comments during the week and any comments he has made in the past be it as pundit or manager have been “fair.”

Keane refused to comment on the incident at the weekend between Hull City midfielder David Meyler and Newcastle United manager, Alan Pardew saying it was, “none of my business.”

Keane was also happy with the improvements made in the Irish set up since he joined with O’Neill late last year. He was pleased with the organisation of the set up and also the number of staff made available to the squad and management. He did admit it was still a work in progress. He was also asked if he rolled his eyes this morning, reading the newspaper reports regarding Mick McCarthy’s comments about Keane’s apology to him about the Saipan incident in 2002. Keane’s reply was simple; “I roll my eyes most mornings.”

The match on Wednesday night in Aviva Stadium will no doubt be an exercise for the management team as they look to September and the opening game of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign against Georgia. O’Neill will be eager to cast an eye over a range of players as he puts together a squad that will challenge for qualification to the tournament in France from group D.

Serbia have a full strength squad that includes familiar names like Ivanović, Matić, and Kolarov among its ranks. A name that may appear on interim coach, Ljubinko Drulović’s team sheet is that of Stefan Šćepović. The Sporting Gijón forward has scored 17 goals in 26 appearances for his club this season in the Spanish Segunda División.

The game will no doubt be a good test for the Boys in Green as they prepare for the challenge that lies ahead of them in September. A win here will put them in good spirits, as mentioned by Keane and will help build much needed momentum towards Tbilisi on September 7th.

Original story for the The LOI Blog posted here.