Martin O’Neill needs new talent to take team to Russia

The Ireland squad will look very different when it’s World Cup qualifying time

Republic of Ireland Manager Martin O'Neill

Republic of Ireland Manager Martin O'Neill

 

For all the encouragement that Martin O’Neill says he has taken from the Irish team’s performances here in France, the northerner faces major challenges as he prepares to head into a World Cup qualifying campaign in which the competition might not be quite so strong, but where a third-place finish will this time mean that everybody gets to stay at home and watch the action on television in two years’ time.

Two of the team’s best-ever players, Shay Given and Robbie Keane, are set to depart, with others such as John O’Shea, Daryl Murphy, Wes Hoolahan and possibly Glenn Whelan unlikely to be so central if Ireland do make it to Russia and they are still around.

Whelan’s contribution has been immense since Giovanni Trapattoni handed him a key role at the very outset of his reign, but while previous talk of his demise has turned out to be greatly exaggerated, the general improvement witnessed when he was omitted against Italy and James McCarthy started in midfield alongside Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick suggested that this was the way forward for the team. If Ireland are to pursue the high-energy approach seen in the last two games here, then he does look to be one of the likely losers.

Shane Duffy received a hard lesson in what happens when you make mistakes at this level on Sunday, but still emerges from the competition looking like he has a very big role to play. His defensive play clearly needs to improve, but even as things stand the threat he poses at Irish set-pieces is likely to be required in a side that looks increasingly thin up top.

Second Captains

Game up

Quite who Ireland look to after his departure is another thing. The names being thrown at Martin O’Neill were Scott Hogan (a 24-year-old Brentford striker who got seven in seven for his club this season but has played only 10 games in two years due to injuries), Joe Mason of Wolves, who got three in 16 for the Championship side over the campaign just gone, and Callum O’Dowda, a promising 21-year-old, whose eight in 38 for Oxford would look healthier if it weren’t for the fact that they were all scored against League Two defenders.

In the circumstances, another couple of midfielders with a knack for creating or scoring a goal – like Jack Grealish, when he was playing well, or Mark Noble for instance – would have been a huge help, while O’Neill can only wonder what might be possible if a Harry Kane had declared for Ireland.

Standout prospects

Alan JudgeHarry ArterJack ByrneIan Lawlor

Where Trapattoni preferred to make players fit the system, O’Neill, at least, has shown a real willingness over his first campaign to adapt his approach so as to accommodate the various talents available to him. That has been the key to Ireland’s success, such as it was, at this tournament.

It will not be or celebrated like the team’s first finals appearance in 1988 or its greatest one two years later, but the team has exceeded modest expectations thanks to clever management, flexible tactics and, in the timing and circumstance of the Italy game, a little luck too, perhaps.

With Robbie Brady, Hoolahan and Jeff Hendrick all having had really good tournaments, though, individual talent has played its part. How O’Neill must wish it was like his club days now and he could simply go out and buy some more.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.