James McCarthy needs to stand up and deliver if Ireland are to win

We are a sum of the parts team and need all of those parts working to qualify

James McCarthy: his return after three matches is vital to the Republic of Ireland’s cause. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

James McCarthy: his return after three matches is vital to the Republic of Ireland’s cause. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

Since Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane took the reins with a 3-0 win over Latvia in November 2013 we’ve not seen any dramatic changes in personnel or the team’s style from the Giovanni Trapattoni era.

What we have seen is some subtle alterations to a line-up that is less predictable.

Yet, remarkably, tomorrow could see the same outfield ten O’Neill named for that opener 13 games and 16 months ago. Séamus Coleman, John O’Shea, Marc Wilson, Stephen Ward, Aiden McGeady, Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy, James McClean, Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Keane is very close to what Poland will have to contend with.

It tells us we have not unearthed any new players, or at least definite starters, which is a true indication of the scarcity of the required talent needed to play international football.

The coaches have, undoubtedly, been looking as the Republic of Ireland are embroiled in a four-way struggle with Germany, Poland and Scotland to qualify for France 2016. The intention is to avoid finishing last although that’s still a possibility.

There’ll be a clearer reality after Sunday’s game with Poland. All four teams should beat Gibraltar and Georgia, both home and away, unless Georgia somehow catch out Scotland, so the round robin games are what really matter.

Atone for defeat

Head-to-head results will decide who qualifies if the teams finish level on points, which makes it vital that we atone for the Celtic Park defeat with victory at home to Scotland in June. We need a minimum of four points from these next two games.

If we win both matches we become genuine contenders to top the group.

O’Neill can be hard to read regarding selection. That’s a good thing. It matters. Take the inclusion of Stephen Quinn in Georgia to Keane’s exclusion in Glasgow, there is usually a little surprise to throw off the opposition’s best-laid plans.

I never understood Trap’s logic when publicly naming the team well before the game. It gave our opponents a clear advantage. On the other hand, O’Neill’s delay in informing his own players of the starting XI, which only seems to happen at the stadium, isn’t helpful tactically or when it comes to set piece organisation. Exhibit A being Shaun Maloney’s preventable goal in Scotland’s 1-0 victory last year.

Ward probably won’t start as Richard Keogh, to me, did enough against Scotland to retain his place with Wilson at left back.

Robbie Brady might come in. Wilson is prone to a casual error in most games he plays. Considering Kamil Grosicki and Waldemar Sobota, Poland’s usual wide players, are out there will be a chance for Coleman and Wilson to impose themselves as auxiliary attackers. That also encourages a start for Brady. He was outstanding against the USA.

His set piece delivery versus the clear risk against a Polish counterattack is the decision. Playing wing back for Hull is vastly different from the responsibilities required here.

But I have to agree with the Ireland teams and their shape (especially their sensible defensive look for away matches) that O’Neill has chosen. And the sight of Hoolahan in midfield.

We have been lucky. Those late goals in Georgia and Gelsenkirchen masked the rarity in which we have played a consistent, coherent brand of football. I went back and watched our previous matches under O’Neill this week. The performances have lacked fluency. Only the scorelines gave us any satisfaction.

I suppose you need a break here and there to get through a group like this.

Tomorrow we need more than luck. We don’t need to be overly stylish either. A win with a workmanlike display will be completely acceptable. It’s that type of slog to the death group now anyway. Developing a style can come later.

Still, the manager must see that the tactical approach against Scotland did not pay off. The midfield of Darron Gibson and particularly Jeff Hendrick were outhustled.

Yes, he was only there due to Whelan’s injury but the fact remains; we are a sum of the parts team and need all of those parts working to qualify.

O’Neill, in every game to date, has employed a flat back four and two wide players with a variety of combinations in central midfield and up front.

This is where he must get his selection spot on. We know how Poland, with their settled, coherent shape, will come at us.

In contrast to Scotland and Germany, the Poles will allow us to build from the back. They don’t usually press in opposition territory so we must take control of the tempo, establish a pattern of passing and link up play.

Too crude

On O’Neill’s watch we’ve only seen that against Gibraltar, which doesn’t count, and for spells in the Italy friendly.

Banging balls up to the front man, while waiting for magic from our wingers, is too crude, not to mention predictable to ever be truly effective in the modern international game.

James McCarthy’s return after missing three matches is vital.

David Forde should keep Shay Given on the bench as well. Forde was excellent in Germany and club form aside has done nothing to deserve being dropped.

Poland are not world beaters (okay, they beat Germany who are world champions) but they will play a simple, disciplined passing game through midfield.

So McCarthy must dominate. Whelan’s presence will, as always, help. It’s time for James to stand up and boss matches at this level (now that Roberto Martinez has let him loose again).

The big question is who goes up top? I believe there is room for Hoolahan, in this game, to make a difference. A third midfielder is not essential as Poland’s formation is fairly rigid so Hoolahan dropping deep would provide enough cover. And it gives the team a real chance to create goal chances for Shane Long or Jon Walters.

Poland are not an outstanding side by any means, despite their results so far. Ireland can shade this but luck won’t be enough anymore.

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