Martin O’Neill toying with idea of Ireland going 3-5-2 against Poland

Mind games get going as opposite number Adam Nawalka expects to face 4-4-2

The rival managers of Ireland and Poland seemed to be embroiled in a game of double bluff as the countdown continued to the European Championship qualifier at the Aviva stadium with Martin O'Neill showing reporters just enough at his squad's training session to suggest he is toying with a switch to 3-5-2 and a confident Adam Nawalka dismissing the idea on the basis that 4-4-2 is what has always worked for the hosts in the past.

O’Neill didn’t deny that he was considering a change of tack when the possibility was put to him at his pre-match press conference, but said his priority is that his players are ready to adapt to the requirements of the given game as it develops.

“If some particular system solved all the problems then everybody would be playing it,” he said. “The reality is that there are advantages to all of them but drawbacks too.”

Over the course of the open part of the training session, Paul McShane and Wes Hoolahan were both amongst the players to feature in what might have been taken to have been “probables”, although the scale of O’Neill’s squad meant that it was 13 versus 13 and not, therefore, the most reliable of indicators. Robbie Brady and Séamus Coleman played as wing-backs with Shay Given in goal and Aiden McGeady in the middle.


The manager declined to get into the significance of any of it afterwards.

Across the city a couple of hours later, Nawalka was pretty dismissive of the notion that Ireland might change tactical horses at such a critical point of the campaign.

“We’re ready for any formation, we’re not fixed on any one thing but we do expect them to play 4-4-2 because that’s the way they have played in the past. It suits their style and the players they have; it is the formation that has produced good results for them in the past.

Asked whether, as has been suggested, he believes Ireland to be an overly direct team, the Poland coach observed: “We’re expecting various styles of football. The long ball system has worked out well for them so far but we expect more fluidity too.

"The Irish will put the emphasis on team work but they do have some very good players, all but a couple are playing in the Premier League. It will be a difficult game but I am expecting a good performance and I think we can get a good result.

“What we know we have to produce is fast attacking football and a high intensity game in order to maximise our chances. The psychological, technical and tactical aspects will all be important but we have worked on them all over the last few days. We want and expect to increase our lead tomorrow in the group.”

Nawalka confirmed that Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski will start Sunday night’s game ahead of Artur Boruc and Wojciech Szczesny.

Explaining the decision, Nawalka said: “The decision was a hard one, but it was on their performances in training. It has been difficult but the other two goalkeepers accepted it well.

Nawalka, Seville midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak and Ajax striker Arkadiusz Milik all said they were delighted by the prospect of playing in front of large numbers of Polish fans during the game after more than 400 turned out at Dublin airport to welcome them upon arrival.

“We are happy to be welcomed by so many Polish fans already in Ireland,” said Krychowiak. “It will definitely help the players to believe in their own abilities but the matter will be decided on the pitch tomorrow.”

O’Neill, meanwhile, admitted that defeat in the game would be a severe blow to the home side’s chances of qualifying for France next year.

“I’ve said all along that the games at home will shape our destiny and this is the first of a series of home games,” he said. “It might not decide everything but it is very, very important. I think it would be a big dent if we were beaten tomorrow night as you would expect. So we have to try to win the game.

“We have to be on top of our game but I’m sure the players are aware of that, I certainly am. They have to be ready on Sunday, there’s no point being ready on Monday morning.”

Robbie Keane said he was hopeful of starting but would accept the manager’s decision if he was left on the substitute’s bench and try to inspire the others to victory from there instead.

When the pair were asked about the squad's trip to the theatre the previous evening to see I, Keano, O'Neill suggested jokingly that there were one or two of the references that he had not got. Keane, though, seemed to have taken umbrage about the portrayal of him in the show:

“The fact that I was 10 years old at the World Cup; I thought that was strange . . . I thought I was 21 at that World Cup.”

His humour improved, though, by the time he was asked about having made his senior international debut some 17 years ago: “Yeah,” he observed with a grin, “when I was two.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times