O’Neill hoping Republic benefit from a useful Mexico work-out
Likes of Shane Duffy, Cyrus Christie and Daryl Murphy can avail of much-needed game time
Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Colin Doyle receives some light-hearted attention from his team-mates. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
The first time a friendly between these two countries on American soil was announced back in 1996, the standard gag was that it was all a set up for US Immigration to throw a cordon around Giants Stadium on the night.
The entire attendance would then be bussed to the nearest airport. In Trump’s America the joke doesn’t seem so funny anymore. As it turned out, in 1996, the closest anyone came to experiencing the heavy hand of local law enforcement was when the American referee kind of lost the run of himself and starting dishing out red cards to members of the Irish team and management. Liam Daish was actually sent off for time-wasting.
The question on this occasion is whether the entire enterprise is actually a waste of time.
Martin O’Neill insists not although a measure of the importance he attaches to the game might be taken from the fact that he says he doesn’t really mind too much whether Ireland lose or not.
The team’s heaviest defeat during his tenure was, as it happens, at the hands of Portugal here in New York three years ago when they lost 5-1 and it did not, he would argue, do too much damage with the team returning home to make a winning start to a qualification campaign that would ultimately prove successful.
This time, it provides the opportunity to give the likes of Shane Duffy, Cyrus Christie and Daryl Murphy some much-needed game time and others the opportunity to impress in a semi-competitive environment.
Still, it seems an awful long way to come for 90-minute run out and the presumption is that the FAI will profit from it all more than the manager or his players might be expected to.
Few of them will have any complaints if they get to feature and with just 19 players present and six substitutions allowed, the question for most will be whether they are more likely to start or finish.
Bradford goalkeeper Colin Doyle is, along with Murphy and Stephen Gleeson, one of three survivors of the 2007 Stephen Staunton-led mini-tour and he has not featured for his country since the 1-1 draw in the old Giants Stadium. He is understandably keen to get cap number two.
“It’s frustrating I haven’t got more than one cap but it’s part and parcel of being involved in squads and not having played,” admits the now 31-year-old from Cork whose career choices at club level ended up severely limiting the number of first team games he played with inevitable consequences for his international aspirations.
“Fingers crossed, he says now, “I might get some sort of game.”
Gleeson, who spent a long time out in the cold too before O’Neill used him in March, certainly seems likely to be involved although having failed to become a real part of the Ireland set-up in the wake of 2007, he and Doyle are less of a focus now than the likes of Conor Hourihane, Christie and Alan Browne all of whom would be regarded as perhaps having the potential to feature fairly prominently for Ireland over the coming years.
Of even those, though, only Christie has, barring unforeseen problems next week, a real prospect of starting in the World Cup qualifier against Austria. The squad is not completely starless, though, with Murphy, Wes Hoolahan, James McClean, Shane Duffy and Darren Randolph all here and likely to play some part on Sunday week.
Neither they nor the newcomers would benefit from taking a beating on Thursday evening (the scheduled kick-off time is now 8.36 local time, 1.36 am in Ireland) and despite playing its importance down, O’Neill is likely to look to his established players to anchor a selection intended to be competitive against a Mexican side that will be stronger than the one that lost to Croatia last weekend in California and could seriously do with winning this time out.
Their coach, Juan Carlos Osorio, had the best record over his first 20 games of any man in that job since 1987 but the fact that his side’s one defeat prior to last week had been a 7-0 humiliation by Chile in the same stadium at the quarter-final stages of the Copa America Centario did sort of overshadow the more positive parts of his early record in the minds of both commentators and fans.
The upshot is that last week’s defeat by a young and inexperienced Croatian team has left him under mounting pressure with two World Cup qualifiers and the Confederations Cup to come over weeks ahead.
His employers might well have been inclined to make a change before now were he not their 12th coach in barely seven seasons but losing to what will be characterised back home as a very weak Irish side will certainly not help his cause.
His cause will be helped, though, by the arrival of quite a few players who were not released by their clubs for the Croatia game and likely return from injury of Rafa Marquez, the now 38 year-old defender who had seven years at Barcelona and a couple here with Red Bulls before returning home to finish his career in 2013.
He can hardly have thought then that he would be still playing international football now but he was probably the only Mexican beneficiary of the traumatic Copa defeat with his estimated importance to the team actually enhanced by the fact he sat it out due to his wife just having had a baby.
He looks set to win cap number 139 here and former Manchester United star Javier Hernandez will be looking to add to the Mexican record breaking 47th international goal he got last time out as Osorio shapes up to take things pretty seriously.
Though very respectable, the projected attendance of around 35,000 suggests neither diaspora is getting quite so worked up about it all. Either that or, given the climate, the old joke is being taken more seriously now.