Steven Reid: With the old guard now gone, this team are writing their own history
Published 14/11/2016 | 02:30
Saturday was a fantastic end to a year where the guard finally changed. I had been worried about the future of Irish football at senior level.
We’ve said goodbye to Damien Duff and Richard Dunne and gradually phased out Robbie Keane, but I didn’t see the same quality in the next generation.
And that's always the fear. Football is cyclical and, as a smaller country, you have to accept that you won't find replacements when big names move on. I feared a struggle because of uncertainty over where direction and leadership would come from. 2016 has put my mind at ease.
This dressing room belongs to a new group of players now. They have different strengths and weaknesses to those that went before - and maybe we don't have the individual stars like those mentioned above - but what these lads share is the confidence that comes with growing together by achieving big results. That's what happened with Duffer, Robbie and the lads I grew up with.
Seamus Coleman, James McClean, Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick can lead the way into the future.
The Euros put Robbie and Jeff on the map, while Seamus and James have responded to the fall-out by moving to another level over the past couple of the months. It's seriously encouraging.
I've been critical of McClean in the past for not doing enough and not creating enough. But he's becoming one of the first names on the teamsheet. He's got energy, he's creative and he's willing to get into the right areas. A couple of years back, I really don't think we'd have seen him in that position to take that special pass from Wes.
Seamus has grown into the captaincy, despite not being the type of character you would automatically expect to be skipper material in terms of his vocal presence.
But the best captains lead by example and, while we often talk about his strengths going forward, I've been more impressed by him defensively. He's rarely beaten in a one on one; he won his battle with Arnautovic.
Robbie Brady's had a mixed autumn and we'll miss him against Wales in March, but the quality of his delivery has given us another dimension. He can look back on his Irish year and be proud of it. I think people who've worked with Robbie always knew that he had the ability.
Hendrick is the other main man, a small bit of a surprise package.
These are the players that are going to have to perform if we are to build on this start, it's as simple as that. We won't get results without three or four of our star men hitting their maximum level.
David Meyler was superb on Saturday too and Harry Arter's attitude was first class even if he didn't get on the ball as much as he would have liked. But I thought Jeff was good again, standing up to the test just like he did in France.
I rate him, even though he's not the type of player that is likely to produce that absolute piece of genius that you'll be talking about coming away from a game. That moment on Saturday was the through ball from Wes for the winner which he made look easier than it actually was to execute.
What you get from Jeff is reliability. When I worked with Roy Hodgson at West Brom, the one thing he always said he'd want from a player was reliability. Maybe some England fans might say that was a problem with Roy - that he placed too much stock in that - but with Ireland we have to be able to bank on a minimum level of application.
Yes, there are times when I watch Jeff and think he could just do that little bit more in the engine room. But he's always a solid 7/10. I'd rather that than a player that is 9/10 in one game and 3/10 in the next. He has established himself as a regular at my old club Burnley too. Like Ireland, they are a hard side to beat.
The table looks good for us now with all the big matches at home in 2017. And, overall, it's been an unbelievable year when you look at our resources. I watched Scotland against England the other night and I was looking through their squad and they are probably our equal in terms of personnel and the level the players are at. But our players just seem to be able to give that little bit more. Martin O'Neill gets that extra out of them.
I must admit that I looked at the first few fixtures in this group with a bit of trepidation. Three away games out of four. It had the potential to set us an uphill task.
But this team has shown it can exceed the expectations of what looks possible on paper. They are writing their own history now.