Martin O’Neill forced to reshuffle for Poland friendly
Curtis gets call-up as Ward, Walters and Kelleher pick clubs over trip to Wroclaw
Portsmouth’s in-form 22-year-old striker Ronan Curtis has been added to the Republic of Ireland squad for the Poland friendly. Photograph: Valdrin Xhemaj/EPA
The Republic of Ireland’s friendly game in Poland on Tuesday night is likely to be a “back to basics” exercise for Martin O’Neill but the manager will have to make at least two changes to the side that started on Thursday night against Wales after Stephen Ward followed the lead of Jon Walters by leaving the squad to return to his club over the weekend.
Ward is nursing the foot injury he sustained in Cardiff and has gone back to Burnley to receive treatment in the hope of being available for Sunday’s Premier League game at Wolves.
Young Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, who had been training with the Irish squad in Newport over the last few days, has also departed and will not be making the trip to Wroclaw.
With the squad acutely short on strikers, though, Ronan Curtis has been rewarded for his form since joining Portsmouth in the summer with a call-up. The 22-year-old has made a remarkable impact since moving to England from Derry City in the summer with five goals in six League One games and he also scored Ireland’s late equaliser in the under-21 qualifying game against Kosovo on Friday but is suspended for Tuesday’s meeting with Germany.
For Curtis to feature just a matter of days after he himself suggested he would need to be playing Championship football before being likely to get that sort of opportunity would complete a remarkable few months for the player.
There may well, however, be more than just the couple of changes O’Neill is obliged to make to his starting line-up in the event that the manager takes another opportunity to weigh up alternatives to a game plan that fell terribly flat at the Cardiff City stadium.
Matt Doherty probably heads the queue of players hoping for the opportunity to stake a longer-term place in the side on Tuesday with Ward’s departure opening up the possibility that O’Neill will take a look at the Wolves wing-back who has previously operated on that side of the defence at club level.
O’Neill preferred to bring on Enda Stevens in the position when Ward got hurt, however, and praised Cyrus Christie for his performance on the right side of midfield, so there are no guarantees for the 26-year-old whose international progress has been hampered by the fact that Ireland captain Séamus Coleman has the right-back slot completely locked down.
Among the others hoping to get a start Tuesday evening are Alan Judge, Graham Burke and Daryl Horgan, with the first two having scored their first international goals in the June friendly against the USA.
Judge failed even to make the bench the other night but Horgan is understandably encouraged by having got on for the closing stages of the defeat.
The effect of a summer move to Hibernian had left a question mark over his place in the Ireland pecking order with O’Neill having done little over the last few years to suggest he rates the Scottish Premiership despite having enjoyed some of the greatest successes of his career in club management with Celtic.
Horgan, however, says that he spoke with the 66-year-old as he considered the best way to progress all aspects of a career that had suddenly hit a dead end at Preston and that O’Neill had assured him that the most important thing was to get playing again.
“I spoke to him about that,” says the former Dundalk star. “I said, ‘I might have to move to the SPL or the way it was looking maybe League One’. But he said the priority for me was to play. He said he was going to Preston for games and I was not even in the squad so he was coming back and had no idea how or what I was doing because he hadn’t seen me. At least if I was playing games, wherever it is, he would know.
“So he said that that was the priority for me. And for my own head I just wanted that feeling of being involved again, to be part of a team or squad, because I didn’t really feel part of it [at Preston] last year. You are coming into training, doing everything you possibly can but not feeling you’re making an impact. It’s tough, everyone wants to play but I know everyone can’t.
“I felt there were going to be opportunities there for me [at Hibs]. If I was doing well, there would be a chance for me to play. That had never really materialised for me last season. So that was a massive pull.”
These are still early days for the 26-year-old north of the border but signs are certainly promising with two goals from three games in the first few weeks at the Edinburgh club.
Whether that is enough to get him into O’Neill’s 11 is another thing but Horgan is adamant that whoever starts, there is a determination with the Ireland squad right not to address the shortcomings exposed by the Welsh.
“We were missing quite a few and that doesn’t help,” he says by way of initially pointing to a few contributory facts. “They’ve a new manager, there’s a feel-good factor and real buzz around Ryan Giggs’ first home game and they played really well while we didn’t play as well as we wanted to so were punished by the quality of the likes Bale.
“Everyone is disappointed about how the game went but make no bones about it everyone is hell-bent on turning it around. [We know] we’ve got to get our heads down. We’ve got other big games coming up against them and Denmark but first it’s a friendly and it’s a big opportunity for us. We want to stake a claim and right the wrongs.”
Republic Of Ireland revised squad: Doyle (Hearts), McDermott (Kristiansund BK), Randolph (Middlesbrough); Coleman (Everton), Christie (Fulham), Doherty (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Duffy (Brighton & Hove Albion), Keogh (Derby County), Clark (Newcastle United), Long (Burnley), Egan and Stevens (both Sheffield United); Judge (Brentford), Hendrick (Burnley), Hourihane (Aston Villa), Williams (Millwall), Meyler (Reading), Horgan (Hibernian), O’Dowda (Bristol City), Burke, Robinson (Preston North End), O’Brien (Millwall), Curtis (Portsmouth).