Martin O’Neill confident of improvement from Ireland

Despite conceding first-half goal Ireland boss delighted with ‘rare talent’ McGeady

 

Martin O’Neill admits that there is significant work to be done before his Republic of Ireland team takes on Germany in five weeks’ time with Ireland’s defence and level of support provided to the team’s lone striker requiring improvement if the world champions are to be troubled in Gelsenkirchen.

The Ireland manager came away from his first competitive international pleased with the points and only slightly concerned, he said, about aspects of the performance. He is confident that his team will improve as the players get competitive time under their belts at club level and he gleans a better sense of what it is that makes them tick.

“The whole idea of our formation was, number one, that we were playing away from home, but that we would still be capable of scoring a goal,” said O’Neill.

“The idea was to get to him [Robbie Keane] and give him a little bit of help a wee bit more quickly. That was the idea with Glenn [Whelan] being in the middle and allowing the other two to get forward as often as they could but at times it looked as if we still didn’t get decent movement.

“I will have to have a look at it. We had plenty of possession considering that we were away from home but we have to really work at things to ensure we exploit a few openings. That’s what we’ll try to do although we also have to be careful too we don’t concede a stupid goal like we did,” he added.

O’Neill acknowledges that things might have been worse, much worse. But the 62-year-old steers well clear of suggesting that all that matters is the result achieved on Sunday night. Still, there were quite obviously positives. France, after all, went to Tbilisi 12 months ago and left with Didier Deschamps lamenting the fact that his players had failed to take any one of seven first-half scoring opportunities while the Irish scored twice and possibly had Aiden McGeady step up a level in terms of his international football.

The difficulty is that he was one of the few to make much of the superiority the team enjoyed and even he admitted that the stunning winner he produced late on was the sort of thing he sometimes tries but rarely pulls off. O’Neill is clearly anxious that he

try it a little more often.

“You see the sort of talent he possesses,” he said, returning to the chief topic of his post-match press conference. “I gave him his debut for Celtic. He was excellent. He was mesmerising in a Champions League game against AC Milan and you’d have thought things were going to kick on. I think he definitely needs managers to believe in him. I think he can obviously kick on from there. I’m sure Roberto Martinez would feel the same about him. It’s just realising that talent he has possessed in abundance since he was a kid.

“I’m repeating myself but he was the only player on the pitch capable of scoring that goal. And I think with having him on the pitch there is the possibility of something like that happening. He is a rare talent and one of the very few players playing up and down in Britain who is actually capable of going [past] players and can do [it]. He has terrific feet.”

O’Neill admits that some of the rest of his selection may have been shaped by the loss to injury of James McClean as well as the need to afford some protection to Burnley full-back Stephen Ward.

The Dubliner will have been encouraged to start the campaign as the first choice left back when O’Neill must have been tempted to move Marc Wilson.

But he didn’t exactly kill off the lingering doubts about the wisdom of retaining him. He is clearly one of those players who would benefit most from a run in his club side’s first team but

is also a player whose limitations have been cruelly exposed against good opposition, something the manager will be well aware of.

Lining up alternatives can be a tricky business, of course, and O’Neill said that speculation about Shay Given forced him into telling David Forde at the start of last week that he would still be the team’s goalkeeper against the Georgians.

“I hadn’t read too much about it [Given’s return and the reports that he had been promised he would start] but when I was being questioned about it, I felt it was becoming an issue.

“Shay wanted to come back but he’d never been promised everything. It’s obviously difficult for him to have played one competitive game for Aston Villa. He was in really great form last year at Middlesbrough. I actually believe rather than bringing a fear element I think him being involved should galvanise the other keepers.

“Competition is healthy but David was going to start for us and I wanted him to know beforehand so as to give him the opportunity to prepare for the game and have no issues.”

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