Wednesday 29 March 2017

Aidan O'Hara: No closer to solving the riddle of Aiden McGeady

Aiden McGeady in action against Poland, one of only three appearances he has made for club and country this season
Aiden McGeady in action against Poland, one of only three appearances he has made for club and country this season
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

In his recently serialised book, former Labour leader Eamon Gilmore reveals a moment that can't have happened too often when two people are discussing football. Both were happy to raise a glass to Aiden McGeady.

"We had a bilateral meeting lasting several hours - and continuing over lunch," writes Gilmore of his summit with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"Lavrov proposed the first toast: 'To Ireland'. After that we toasted Russia, the friendship between our countries, the United Nations, peace, poetry, love... there were several toasts to Aidan McGeady, the Irish footballer who was then playing with Lavrov's team, Spartak Moscow, and of whom Sergei was a fan."

For a man who went through life spelling Eamon with one 'n' it was surprising to see McGeady's Christian name misspelled (albeit to the way it should be in this writer's view), but there was at least some clarity of thought in Gilmore's tactics at the meeting, as he refilled his glass with water rather than vodka.

"By the time the lunch ended, Aidan McGeady's feats were improving with every toast, but I was still stone-cold sober," he adds.

The cruel way of viewing this story is that it was the man who was knocking back shots that was lionising McGeady's ability and there are plenty who would argue that he is a player who would drive you to drink.

The final 10 minutes of Ireland's game against Poland encapsulated so much of his career.

In the 81st minute, he dropped a shoulder, created some room and crossed for Richard Keogh, who should have headed the goal which could have allowed Irish supporters to be currently planning a trip to France rather than fretting nervously over the next eight days and a play-off against Bosnia.

As the clock ticked into injury time in Warsaw, McGeady got the ball in a similar position to where he had crossed for Keogh, made space, and the next time the ball landed was around 10 yards behind the goal thanks to a horribly sliced cross.

So often is the phrase used about him that you could be forgiven for thinking that "McGeady's end product" was his actual name.

Frustrated

No manager has shown more faith in him than Martin O'Neill but, with just 45 minutes of club football this season to add to two international appearances, even the Ireland boss is starting to sound a little frustrated.

"I think we should go past the point now of talking about Aiden's potential," said O'Neill at the announcement of the squad to face Bosnia. "Aiden is not the 18-year-old kid that I brought into the side. He has terrific ability, some managers see certain things in him.

"I was a great believer in him in that sense to do something a wee bit different and that remains so."

If he features in both play-off games, McGeady will join Packie Bonner on 80 caps and move into the top 10 of all-time appearances for Ireland among several legends whom he seems destined never to join in the realms of Irish football folklore.

McGeady's commitment to Ireland has never been in question and, having slipped down the pecking order dramatically at Everton, international football is now his best chance of showing his undoubted talent.

Ideally, international managers want their players to be playing regular club football but, in the coming days, O'Neill has a chance to motivate McGeady and improve his self-belief to the point where he can make a significant contribution and, perhaps, produce something to join some of those legends.

His late winner in Georgia must rank among the most technically difficult goals ever scored in an Ireland shirt and it's why, for all of the frustration he brings, O'Neill is likely to need somebody like him to produce a little bit of magic to get Ireland over the line.

"Fitness can be an issue," admitted O'Neill. "But I still think he is worth it for us that he might just come on and do something or, even if he was to start a game, give a cameo role. That is why he's worth having around."

There are many solid professionals in the Ireland squad, who will give the manager a performance rating of six or seven out of 10 every game but, as we saw in the group games, it only takes a tiny bit of quality to separate evenly matched teams.

There wasn't much between Ireland and Poland other than Robert Lewandowski's brilliance; Shaun Moloney's magnificent goal was the difference in Glasgow, in Germany and at home to Armenia it was Jeff Hendrick who produced the moments of magic to give his team the chance to pick up points.

In Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic, Bosnia have two players playing at a level above anything in Ireland's squad.

McGeady isn't near that quality but could be O'Neill's wildcard to produce something from nowhere that could be the difference.

Two solid, 'give nothing away' well-organised performances are unlikely to cut it in the next eight days.

Last week, Everton released a video of a golf-chipping challenge in which the left-handed McGeady attempted to chip a golf ball into a bucket from around 10 yards.

It took professional golfer Tommy Fleetwood three attempts, then John Stones had 15 before McGeady stepped up. His first try dropped left; second hit the bucket; third was similar to the first; fourth was a horrible effort that fell way short before the fifth landed straight in.

It was a good metaphor for what he gives as a player and can give Ireland in the coming days. Maddening inconsistency, a riddle which nobody seems any closer to solving but the feeling that, perhaps, he can do something which none of his team-mates can.

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