Sunday 25 September 2016

John Giles: Inconsistency has blighted Martin O'Neill's Ireland reign

Read his column every week in The Herald

Published 21/06/2016 | 07:46

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and assistant manager Roy Keane, right, during squad training. Republic of Ireland Squad Training, FAI National Training Centre, National Sports Campus, Abbotstown, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and assistant manager Roy Keane, right, during squad training. Republic of Ireland Squad Training, FAI National Training Centre, National Sports Campus, Abbotstown, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

IT’S never good when you’re looking to another team in big tournament football for a dig out. That’s where Ireland are now with Italy in Lille in a few days time.

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Let’s be honest, the best news that came in the wake of Ireland’s 3-0 defeat by Belgium in Bordeaux was the fact that Antonio Conte is ready to make sweeping changes for the final game in Group E.

But I’m always suspicious of Italians talking about easing back. Conte will have a lot of players who have been sitting on the bench for the last ten days bursting a gut to win – if for no other reason than they want to play again.

Across their squad, they have better players than Martin O’Neill and I don’t believe for one second that he will be expecting an easy ride.

He spoke after the game about giving it a right go against the Italians in an all-or-nothing effort to win the game, a result which still might not be enough to make the next round.

That should be the default setting for every game of football. No manager plans for a game with the idea of losing in his mind.

A  win is far from impossible against Italy, who didn’t play too well against Sweden and were fortunate to grab the three points in the dying moments of a game which was pretty even throughout.

If anything, I thought Sweden had slightly the better of that game.

But I have some major reservations about this Ireland team, as I have had all along.

The one strength this group of players demonstrated throughout the qualifying tournament was a decent defence and that fell apart against Belgium.

They have good enough players to win any match but Belgium were handed their handsome win by awful defending.

I’m not sure why the defence crumbled but it was in keeping with the general theme I have seen since O’Neill took on the Ireland job.

Inconsistency in key aspects have governed performances. It is very hard to predict what will happen a team which changes from match to match.

For me, the whole point of friendly internationals and indeed, competitive games, is to give players time together. There is no substitute for that if you’re trying to foster consistency.

So it shouldn’t really be surprise when we see mixed bag performances over a long period of time and for that reason, I don’t really know which Ireland will turn up against Italy.

O’Neill claims he will “go for it” in this game and I presume by that he means that he will pick a team designed to attack Italy from the gun.

Accepting that he has limited options, I still believe he could throw caution to the wind and pick a team that can play and not rely on the long hoof up to Shane Long every time.

With that in mind, here’s my team for Italy:

Randolph; Coleman, O’Shea, Keogh, Ward; Brady, Hoolahan, Whelan, Quinn; Long, McClean.

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