Thursday 29 September 2016

Martin O'Neill sees Kilkenny spirit in Ireland revival

But Irish legend Giles worried about McCarthy mentality for crucial games

Published 09/09/2015 | 02:30

Martin O'Neill sees the 'Kilkenny spirit' in his Ireland team
Martin O'Neill sees the 'Kilkenny spirit' in his Ireland team
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and his assistant Roy Keane watching the All-Ireland hurling final at Croke Park on Sunday
O'Neill and Kilkenny boss Brian Cody were singing from the same hymn sheet

Martin O'Neill attended the All-Ireland hurling decider with his assistant Roy Keane on Sunday and the words of Brian Cody were still fresh in his mind as he analysed Ireland's crucial win 24 hours later.

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He thought of Kilkenny's comeback when he was asked about the second-half revival by his side that proved sufficient to escape a Euro 2016 banana skin in the form of Georgia.

According to man of the moment Jeff Hendrick, O'Neill had a few strong words to say in an interval where he made the decision to replace Robbie Keane with Shane Long.

And, long after the final whistle, the Irish boss made it clear that, just like Cody, he was hoping that his players realised the gravity of the situation and seized the day.

"I heard a fantastic manager - Mr Cody from Kilkenny - say 'sometimes people step up to the plate when you really want them'", said O'Neill, a keen follower of GAA, who was unwilling to elaborate any further.

"I'm happy to quote Mr Cody and leave it at that."

Inspire

Character has pulled Ireland through in a group where the performances have failed to inspire. That attribute will be required next month in an extremely challenging double header against Germany and Poland.

If Scotland lose to Poland then Ireland will be sure of third spot but O'Neill predicted twists and turns in June and expects more of the same now.

He is pleased by the upturn in the business end of the Georgia match after being quite vocal on his disappointment with the players' tentative approach before the interval - a weakness he linked with an absence of energy and, perhaps, the increased expectations.

Seamus Coleman and goalscorer Jon Walters were name-checked as he spoke of the turnaround.

"Seamus was great," said O'Neill. "A class player."

Walters was given lengthier praise in the context of a query on the impact of Long, whose arrival clearly unsettled a Georgian defence that had it too easy until that point.

"I think that Jon was the catalyst for a lot of it," he explained. "What Jon does when he's playing on the right-hand side and up front is that he tends to get hold of the ball, which is very, very important.

"I know that a lot of play can start up top from a top quality centre forward getting hold of it and Jon does that. And then he's not frightened to go into the box.

"He's shown a lot of courage and he's been great for us, really great."

Walters' Stoke team-mate Glenn Whelan was influential too, although his night was soured by a booking for dissent that rules him out of Germany's visit, along with James McClean.

This leaves management with a midfield dilemma for next month with James McCarthy a candidate to drop into Whelan's preferred role in front of the back four.

McCarthy's character is a consistent talking point, with the Everton player unable to replicate his club form in a green shirt.

Germany are the definition of a stern test, and O'Neill knows that a repeat of the collective first-half display from Monday in any phase of the encounter with the world champions will have grave consequences.

The midfield area is sure to be under pressure and McCarthy will be in the firing line. One of his critics, John Giles, spoke at length about his exasperation with the Glaswegian, as he launched the Westport Sea2Summit Adventure Race in Dublin yesterday morning.

"I don't know what goes through James McCarthy's head to be honest," said Giles, who explained that he is frustrated by the player because he feels the talent is there.

"He's got terrific ability. The ball he passed to Jon Walters in Gibraltar, the 40-yard pass before the second goal, he has the ability to do that.

"Trapattoni used to talk about 'personality', but he doesn't impose himself. If you are in that position you have to impose yourself. He doesn't and the game passes him by."

Giles says that McCarthy is reluctant to get into positions where he can really affect the game, a complaint that he extends to his Everton displays.

"He actually points a lot. Do you see him pointing?" he continued. "I always have a thing with people pointing. 'Go and get the thing yourself.' I don't know the lad, I don't know whether he's been told it or ignored it or he hasn't been told it.

"I just know that he was more ability than any of the other midfielders to do what needs to be done."

This was part of a general discussion on the overall role of a holding midfielder, a position that Giles is sceptical about.

"I don't believe in the defensive midfielder," he continued. "It's a myth. I always believe that if the midfield player got more on the ball than some of them do, then you wouldn't have to defend as much."

The 74-year-old reckons that an obsession with statistics is a factor in engine-room operators going for the safe pass, the 'cop out' ball to the full-backs that does no harm.

"Stats are one of the worst things that happened to football," he reasoned. "If I started my career again, I think I could go through it with 100pc possession by passing sideways and backwards."

The public who have voted with their feet by staying away from games will argue that they want the Irish team to be a little braver in their passing.

Effective

Yet the irony is that when Germany come to town, an approach tailored towards playing for a point could prove to be effective.

If Ireland burst out and operate at a high tempo against Joachim Loew's stars, there's a danger they will be easily picked apart.

Scotland went for it and were ultimately outscored. In Gelsenkirchen last October, the Irish plan succeeded in containing the hosts until the loss of Whelan to injury opened things up.

When Germany broke through midway through the second half, Ireland did throw caution to the wind and nick a leveller. However, embarking from the blocks with that approach could be fatal.

"I will play it (video) back again," said O'Neill. "I think the Germans are the type of side that can play home or away without a great deal of problems. We have to try and really put on a show if we can."

It may have to be a cagey show with a safety first mentality which keeps a lid on the ambition that eventually won the day on Monday against inferior opposition. "We are still in a tough situation," asserted the Irish boss.

A different kind of courage and character will be required for the reversion to underdog status.

Irish Independent

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