Martin O’Neill’s men now have momentum for final flourish

Glenn Whelan and Seamus Coleman expected to return against Poland

Martin O’Neill: “We know what we have to do . . . we have to have a high scoring draw; really we have to try to win the game.” Photograph: Andrew Couldridge/Reuters

Martin O’Neill: “We know what we have to do . . . we have to have a high scoring draw; really we have to try to win the game.” Photograph: Andrew Couldridge/Reuters

 

It’s only a couple of years now since the then Poland manager Waldemar Fornalik used 54 players over the course of just one season. As they prepare for the game in Warsaw this weekend Irish fans might be forgiven for thinking that just one, Robert Lewandowski, now stands between their team and a guaranteed place at next summer’s European Championships.

Counting Thursday’s brace against Scotland, the Bayern Munich striker now has 14 goals to his name in five games for club and country.

The question now is can he continue his exploits against an Irish defence that kept the entire German strikeforce at bay for 90 minutes on Thursday.

Martin O’Neill has plenty to ponder over the course of Saturday’s flight to Poland.

He has at least two players, Glenn Whelan and James McClean, back while the official word is that Seamus Coleman and Marc Wilson are also available for selection.

It won’t become clear whether the defenders really are considered sharp enough to start until pretty close to kick-off but the manager must, in any case, decide to what extent he wants to tinker with a line-up that came through so heroically against the world champions.

A fully fit Coleman would oust Cyrus Christie for sure but the Derby full-back recovered from a desperately shaky start against the Germans game well enough to stake a claim on Sunday if the Donegalman is not considered quite ready to mark his 27th birthday by winning his 30th cap.

Shane Long may just have done enough to get a start this time and it is hard to see Whelan not returning now that his one-match suspension has been served.

With Shay Given out and Darren Randolph sure to start in his place, the main questions then are whether Stephen Ward, having limped out of the 1-0 win, returns to the bench and Richard Keogh retains his place at the heart of the defence.

As a place in the play-offs is assured, O’Neill has something of a free hand. There is a big prize on offer to the winners but the Irish are, arguably, the little bit more incentivised to really go for it by the fact that the only draws of 2-2 or higher will secure them the group’s second safe passage to France.

However much Lewandowski hogs the limelight, the Poles have a few decent players with Borussia Dortmund’s Lukasz Piszczek, Seville’s Gregorz Krychowiak and Fiorentina’s Jakub Blaszczkowski among the ones to watch out for, even if the latter doesn’t seem to be quite the force that he was before a long lay-off through injury and his subsequent loan from Dortmund where he had at one stage been an absolutely key influence.

His exile from the national team was extended due to personal differences with Lewandowski but the pair are working together again with young Ajax striker Arkadiusz Milik helping to complete a formidable attacking unit that has comfortably outscored any other team in the group.

Major danger

The Poles looked the better side that day although they were not quite good enough to successfully shut up shop after taking the lead. Still, the Irish cannot bank on getting out of trouble if they defend as sloppily as they did when handing them the advantage.

However, given the added incentive of breaking the long, long run without a big away win, it seems an appropriate occasion to take a chance or two.

“Poland will be difficult, there’s no doubt about that,” says O’Neill, who still rates Germany as favourites to win the tournament itself next summer, “but we know what we have to do . . . we have to have a high scoring draw; really we have to try to win the game.

“But we have secured a play-off place, which is not to settle for second best at the moment. I think we all would have taken that yesterday morning but let us go and try to win the game in Poland.

Very focused

“There’s a good feeling here but it will be a tough test for us. Poland have been very, very strong in this campaign and they remain so and they have one of the best players in the world playing for them in Lewandowski so it will be a hard task for us but we’re going there with some confidence.”

Finally, this Ireland team has some timely momentum of its own.

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.