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Thursday 18 September 2014

Dion Fanning: The time for Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane to show they can make a difference is here

Dion Fanning

Published 03/09/2014 | 22:06

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The most significant thing about Ireland's game with Oman at the Aviva might be that it is done.

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There is a small window for international friendlies to be interesting and when Martin O'Neill selected a starting eleven that is unlikely to look anything like the team that lines up against Georgia in Tbilisi on Sunday that window got even smaller.

By the time Robbie Keane, Shane Long and Aiden McGeady came on after an hour the game had already reached the point where the only meaningful thing it could do was end.

It was a comfortable victory - O'Neill's second as international manager - and maybe Robbie Brady will feel closer to a starting position after a fine performance, especially with the news that James McClean is out of the trip to Georgia. Kevin Doyle too will be pleased with his first-half goal while Alex Pearce might be the only man in Ireland who would like to play Oman every week having scored Ireland's second which he could add to his goal against the same side in London two years ago.

Over ten months and eight friendly games, O'Neill has waited for a game with meaning. For the next year that won't be a problem and there may be times when O'Neill feels too much significance is being given to results but he won't have to experience this feeling - unprecedented in his management career as he said before the game on Tuesday -  of waiting nearly a year for a competitive game. 

He had one final bit of shadow play to get through against Paul Le Guen's side but such is the way of international football that there were still players that he wanted to get to know. Darron Gibson - who has a chance to become a central figure for Ireland - and Shay Given - who started in goal, earned his 126th cap but still had to prove that he had something to offer after two years in international retirement - were among them.

It was not they type of game in which it would be easy to demonstrate goalkeeping credentials. Given eagerly shepherded a couple of long-range shots past his post and gathered a weak effort easily, while his voice could be heard above the crowd (Marcel Marceau could probably have been heard above the crowd). Given was substituted at half-time after 45 minutes when nothing could be established. If he starts in Tbilisi, it won't be because of anything he did in this game and it will be tough on David Forde.

3 September 2014; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Three International Friendly, Republic of Ireland v Oman, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
3 September 2014; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Three International Friendly, Republic of Ireland v Oman, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
3 September 2014; Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given, Anthony Pilkington, left, and Robbie Brady defend a corner. Three International Friendly, Republic of Ireland v Oman, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin.  Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
3 September 2014; Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given, Anthony Pilkington, left, and Robbie Brady defend a corner. Three International Friendly, Republic of Ireland v Oman, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
3 September 2014; Alex Pearce, Republic of Ireland, third from right, is congratulated by team-mates after scoring his side's second goal. Three International Friendly, Republic of Ireland v Oman, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
3 September 2014; Alex Pearce, Republic of Ireland, third from right, is congratulated by team-mates after scoring his side's second goal. Three International Friendly, Republic of Ireland v Oman, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

It was Gibson's first meaningful game since he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament against Kazakhstan in the Aviva last October and if it had been a competitive match,he would have been sent off for a second-half tackle on Eid Al Farsi which was reckless but which might at least have demonstrated that Gibson wasn't too concerned about protecting that knee. O'Neill took him off immediately.

Ireland were laboured for much of the first half as O'Neill gave players who were in need of some football a start.Doyle was one of these and he opened the scoring after 19 minutes with a fine header from a Brady corner.

Brady was another who would have wanted to catch O'Neill's eye and he had some impressive touches but this was not a free-flowing Ireland performance and O'Neill's Ireland have had moments when they've delivered those during the long months of preparation.

David Meyler was another player who needed some playing time. He started at right back and came close to adding a second goal with a nice piece of skill before his chip bewildered Ali Al Habsi but the ball came back off the post. Meyler was voted man of the match but Stephen Quinn gave another impressive performance in midfield.

If this was a learning exercise, the people of Dublin were on the mitch. It was another disappointing attendance at the Aviva but not an unexpected one against opponents who did little excite.

The problem for Ireland is not the attractiveness of the opposition but the reality of their own appeal to the Irish public. "It's not you, it's me," they could have said to Oman last night if their opponents wondered about the low turnout.

O'Neill and Keane were supposed to change that but if one thing has been established during the long wait for a competitive game it is that transformation will only come through a change in the fortunes of the Irish side.

Keane had discussed the atmosphere in the match programme. "It's a different stadium and very comfortable for the away team compared to the old Lansdowne Road where the wind swirled around and we used it to our advantage...You hear lots of teams talking about how they enjoy visiting Dublin but it's up to us and the supporters to make it a more hostile venue."

This wasn't a game to launch that campaign but on Sunday, O'Neill and Keane finally get the chance to make a difference. At the Aviva they got one final reminder of all they need to do.

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