Set-pieces are key for Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill
Published 28/05/2016 | 12:11
Martin O'Neill has warned his Republic of Ireland players their Euro 2016 destiny could rest on what they do from set-pieces at both ends of the pitch.
The 64-year-old, like predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni, is acutely aware of how key dead-ball situations can be in tight international matches, and knows his team's ability to deal with them in their own penalty area and prosper from them in their opponents' could represent the difference between success and failure in France next month.
"I have said this before - I said it to my players a way back at the beginning of the qualification," O'Neill said.
"It sounds crazy in this day and age when when you have got wonderful footballers playing on the planet - (Cristiano) Ronaldo, (Lionel) Messi, players like that, really great players - that even big matches, Champions League finals, World Cup finals, are being decided on set-pieces if not penalty-kicks.
"They are important in games, so you have to be able to defend them and try to make something of them when you have them.
"Hopefully the game isn't just based around that, but they are still part of the game and you have to try to deal with them."
If ever O'Neill needed a game to illustrate his point, it was Friday night's 1-1 friendly draw with Holland, the Republic's penultimate warm-up fixture.
Shane Long fired his side into a 30th-minute lead after Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen could only palm away John O'Shea's bullet header from a Robbie Brady corner, and defender Shane Duffy was unlucky not to repeat the dose after the break from the same source.
It is no coincidence that Ireland's 1-0 win over Switzerland in March came courtesy of a Ciaran Clark header after Duffy had helped on another Brady corner.
In the circumstances, Brady has become a key member of O'Neill's team, although his manager insists his game is about more than just free-kicks and corners.
A winger by trade, the former Manchester United trainee has played much of his recent international football at left-back, a role he freely admits he is still learning.
However, his delivery from both open play and set-pieces is a major weapon, as Cillessen and his defenders will testify after a difficult evening at the Aviva Stadium.
O'Neill said: "Well, if Robbie doesn't play, I think we have got other players who can deliver the ball, but he just happens to be pretty good at it. But that's not his only role in the team, he's a very fine footballer.
"I'm hoping he's got over the disappointment of being relegated with Norwich. He is important to us and he is growing in stature."