Wednesday 26 July 2017

Ronnie Whelan: Martin O'Neill's three-man defence experiment was a total disaster but Uruguay was more like it

Read Ronnie Whelan's column exclusively in The Herald

Republic of Ireland football manager Martin O'Neill ahead of the international friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Uruguay at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Eoin Noonan/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland football manager Martin O'Neill ahead of the international friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Uruguay at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Eoin Noonan/Sportsfile
Ronnie Whelan

Ronnie Whelan

This was much more like the Ireland we’ve come to know under Martin O’Neill and I wouldn’t be a bit unhappy if the boss put out a very similar team against Austria.

Let’s be honest, Ireland’s attempt to change things and play a three-man defence against Mexico was a total disaster and I don’t really want to see that again.

I remember Jack Charlton trying it for a couple of training sessions with Mick McCarthy, Kevin Moran and Paul McGrath as the three. It wasn’t pretty.

I even remember Bob Paisley giving it a run on the training ground and quietly binning the experiment within a few days.

What we saw against Uruguay was, hopefully, what we will see against Austria in a week – from front to back.

I was surprised to see Kevin Long start but he did very well and might be in the running for Austria.

Cyrus Christie also had a bright performance, scored a great goal and showed that we can cope without Seamus Coleman.

I’m still more than a bit concerned about his defensive qualities but O’Neill has nobody else.

I thought Robbie Brady coped well on the right but looked even better when he switched in the second half. He was our biggest threat for most of the first half and solved a bit of a dilemma for his manager.

His form for Burnley has been poor and I wondered whether O’Neill might think about him as an impact substitute. This answered that question and O’Neill must find a place for him.

I’m pretty sure he will start with Glenn Whelan holding but he has a few other big calls to make filling out his midfield.

Harry Arter was energetic and effective, Wes Hoolahan made a big impact when he came on and of all his options, Aiden McGeady did the least to nudge O’Neill’s elbow.

Perhaps the worst performer on the night was Jeff Hendrick who seems to have dropped off the heights of last summer into a holding pattern.

I reckon the best moment from the exercise was Jon Walters goal, an excellent finish from a central position which will have eased O’Neill’s concerns about his options up front considerably.

It allows him to plan for the game with Walters as an anchor and that’s a great boost for both O’Neill and Ireland.

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