Encouraging display emphasises the options available to new managerial team
This looked like a proper Republic of Ireland side sent out by people who know what Irish football is about
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill knows how to bring the best out of John O’Shea. Photo: Donall Farmer/Inpho
So, plenty of valuable information banked by the new manager about his players, the backroom staff and his relationship with Roy.
This felt like a Republic of Ireland team sent out by a man who understands Irish football. Who understands what we are about. Because he is one of us – just like his assistant.
By the end, the Poles were in command, chasing a home victory and we needed the Irish substitutes to gel and get a hold of the game. That always happens in friendly matches.
Strong and clever touches from Glenn Whelan and James McClean got the team out of danger. John O’Shea also came in and emphasised his importance to Ireland in the upcoming European Championship qualifiers.
Nil-all in Poznan was an improvement on our last visit to this stadium. The passing statistics certainly improved.
It was obvious from the kick-off that this would be a vastly different second outing for the new regime than last Friday’s stroll.
Martin O’Neill did the expected and changed from the smaller front four used against Latvia with Shane Long, Jonathan Walters and Anthony Stokes bringing muscle to the attack. Walters came in off the right with Long as the lone striker while Stokes dropped deeper.
The initial shape was encouraging. In particular, it was worth looking at Stokes as a semi-striker. This was a big game for the Celtic man in that important role as we will probably use 4-4-1-1 for most away matches, I would suggest.
I would have preferred to see him get closer to Long. Nor was I overly impressed with his attitude when possession was lost – no point standing still for a few seconds, glaring at teammates – but he improved in the second half and did enough to merit another opportunity.
Wes Hoolahan got more joy in the same position against Latvia but that’s an unfair comparison because they were so poor.
The message conveyed to Stokes and many others as they go back to their clubs tomorrow is week to week form will keep them in the picture. That’s all a player wants to know really. Play well, get picked. God, it has taken us an age to get to that juncture. We already knew Long can play the lone striker role. He wasn’t sensational, and missed a chance on 65 minutes, but showed for every ball.
The raft of changes was as much to protect players like Marc Wilson, who took a knock, and James McCarthy, who was replaced on the hour. James McClean gave Aiden McGeady a well-deserved break. It seems McGeady will have a freer role in O’Neill’s team. He started on the left but the less rigid system allowed him drift onto the ball and more importantly into the box. O’Neill knows better than most how deadly he can be when allowed to seek space to isolate a defender.
McGeady was also in charge of the free kicks. Such responsibility will eventually be repaid. An ideal test really, as Paul Green and McCarthy sought to play football but Poland pressed onto them to disrupt any rhythm. That’s how it will be against any major football nation.
There is still a need for a better midfielder, like Darron Gibson, to be in there alongside McCarthy.
Poland were never going to make it easy to work it into McCarthy’s feet. That’s why it’s important to have bigger front men, who can win messy route one ball and bring the midfield into the attack. And ensure we are not constantly manning the pump.
It could mean the use of Robbie Keane in away games will be restricted to a second-half sub or when we need a goal. That remains the big conundrum.
My wandering eye couldn’t help taking in the Irish dugout. Roy Keane had a few choice words with Stokes for wasteful play and was keeping tabs on McCarthy. Of course, Roy knows better than most how important it is for McCarthy to be the dominant figure in every game.
By the end both O’Neill and Keane were on the line cajoling that extra per cent from tiring legs.
A lively, interesting opening 45 minutes went by in a flash. I haven’t said that about an international friendly in many a year. We looked the better team without being genuinely creative. McCarthy and Green sought to play through the middle but the Polish energy and bumpy pitch made it tough.
The only shame was Sean St Ledger’s injury. He fit snugly into the defence and if he stays fit there are suddenly five real options at centre back. I think it is about who can be the best partner for O’Shea. Maybe it is the veteran defender motivating himself but the arrival of O’Neill, his manager at Sunderland, and Keane, a former team-mate for club and country has helped.
They both know him well.
Stephen Ward also had a good night, along with Stephen Kelly. Seamus Coleman owns the right back shirt but Ward and Kelly are others going back to their clubs knowing they are rated members of the squad.
That’s a huge incentive for so many players after tonight.
Now our new and dynamic duo can go on the tour of UK clubs, chart form and plot the next step. The era of sitting and waiting at home for a view of players has passed at last.