2016 in focus: The highs and lows, winners and losers in a good year for Martin O'Neill's Ireland
Ireland’s victory in Austria delivered the perfect end to an eventful international year for Martin O’Neill. Daniel McDonnell looks back at the highs and lows, the winners and losers
A good year for
He was effectively elevated to the captaincy midway through the Euros and grew into the role across the year, culminating with a fine show in Vienna. May not be a ranter and raver but leadership seems to suit him.
Scored an iconic goal in Lille that will live in the memory and the overall French experience has turned him into a star of the present. Needs to address his club position, though.
Not a guaranteed starter 12 months ago but a string of stirring performances has changed that and he’s adding goals to his efforts now. His evolution has offered Ireland goals from midfield.
His form was an issue ahead of France but his performances removed all fears and he’s a Premier League player now too after getting a deserved move to Burnley.
His goal against Sweden at Stade de France was a sweet reward for a long and interrupted journey. He assisted the winners against Italy and Austria too – it’s no coincidence that he tends to have a role in the good stuff.
A bad year for
He absolutely loved representing Ireland but was unable to really deliver a Hollywood ending unless you count a goal against Oman.
Started 2016 with real ambitions of making the Euros yet a horrific leg break dashed that dream in addition to a Premier League switch. There is still time to put things right.
Injury in March ended his French audition and he hasn’t played for Ireland since – an unused sub in Vienna with David McGoldrick preferred off the bench. Life in America is going well for him though.
A popular member of the group but he was cut at the last minute for the Euros and his Irish career now looks to be over as he opted to focus on Portsmouth when he was called up in September.
Not on the radar all year when he should be in his prime and last week he pleaded guilty to an assault on an Elvis impersonator in 2013. Has not shaken off the habit of making headlines for wrong reasons.
Better to come
Martin O’Neill rates him highly but he still has to cut out errors in his game – and has acknowledged as much – and Austria was a step in the right direction. It was a vote of confidence too when he could have paid the penalty for a slip in Moldova.
France was a rough experience but relocation to Newcastle – escaping from Aston Villa is a decent career move these days – has coincided with restoration to the Irish team in a new partnership with Duffy.
Stop-start introduction to Irish scene yet his contribution to a huge three points in Vienna should be the catalyst for better days ahead. Had to cope with ludicrous rumours about his intentions in October that did nobody any good.
Hoolahan’s first-time effort against the Swedes at the Stade de France was magic but Saturday’s team goal was superior with the playmaker’s pass for McClean adding the necessary incision.
France were another 5-10 scoreless minutes away from hitting panic stations in Lyon. The concession of an equaliser from a straightforward cross was hard to take.
When appointed, O’Neill stressed that he didn’t want to throw caps around like confetti yet he still ended up using 37 players across the year with the pre-Euros friendlies increasing that number.
Stephen Ward will not get a mention in awards season but it looked like his Irish career was done when Giovanni Trapattoni culled him towards the end of 2012 after he had struggled in Poland.
O’Neill brought him back in and he benefited from the mid-Euros reshuffle to free Brady up to play elsewhere. He’s revived his club fortunes at Burnley and deserves to be viewed in a different light.
Names to watch
Brentford’s Scott Hogan should declare for Ireland although oddly he was at Conor McGregor’s fight in New York last Saturday when he could have been in Austria. He was there with team-mate John Egan who is likely to earn a call in 2017.
Dundalk duo Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle should be back, too, although they may have moved on by then.
O’Neill has made some decent changes in games and he got his subs right in Serbia when Ireland were toiling. Stephen Quinn wasn’t the most obvious introduction but he brought energy while others flagged and Daryl Murphy was introduced for his first competitive Irish goal. Unfortunately, he’s barely been sighted since.
The woodwork was kind to Ireland in the first half of the wins over Georgia and Austria and that could have put a different slant on their recent work.
What followed afterwards was a solid drubbing but Shane Long was taken out of it in the penalty area just before Belgium’s opener in Bordeaux.
The absence of attackers coming through the ranks means that a quick decision from Hogan would help the situation. All the established options will be the other side of 30 by the end of this campaign. McClean can’t pop up with goals in every match.
Win against Wales in March and Ireland can genuinely think about topping their World Cup group. O’Neill’s men are creeping up the world rankings and that could be vital for the dreaded play-offs.