Wednesday 7 December 2016

We can't carry passengers - Martin O'Neill

Published 08/10/2016 | 02:30

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill Picture: PA
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill Picture: PA

Martin O'Neill has called on his depleted Irish squad to raise their performance levels for tomorrow's World Cup 2018 qualifier in Moldova by stressing that they cannot afford to be carrying passengers in the must-win encounter.

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The group landed in Chisinau last night to prepare for the fixture without key men Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick, and the Irish boss acknowledged that 'he has a few problems' in the midfield department.

Hendrick is banned, while Brady did not travel after he suffered concussion in the sluggish 1-0 win over Georgia on Thursday.

O'Neill admitted that the performance was below par, especially in the first half, and it was an inspired moment from skipper Seamus Coleman that dragged Ireland out of a hole. The Derryman said that his players need to do better and cannot afford to have a few players off the pace.

"I think we need everyone to step up to the mark," he said. "The performance in the first half on Thursday shows we need everybody at it. We can't afford to carry anybody.

"The game actually panned out much as I could see it, because if they could get into any rhythm, which they did do, they started to grow in confidence. We didn't play well enough.

"We turned it around in the second half, started getting second balls and applying more pressure. That was really it. We've relied on Seamus Coleman scoring a goal. It was a tough evening for us. But we've won, that becomes very important."

Harry Arter was not on the plane either - it was always a long shot due to the tight hamstring that forced him to miss Georgia - but O'Neill had to speak to the player ahead of the flight for different reasons.

Inaccurate reports that the Bournemouth midfielder was about to declare for England - he is yet to feature in a competitive match for Ireland - led to a discussion.

Arter affirmed his commitment and the story was a surprise to both parties. O'Neill had fielded a series of questions on the subject on Thursday night before he was able to clarify that bogus rumours lay behind the unnecessary distraction.

It is expected that Arter will be fit enough to line out for his club next weekend, but the Irish boss understands that his absence is just another case of unfortunate timing in the 26-year-old's stop-start international career.

Veterans Glenn Whelan and Wes Hoolahan are in line to replace Brady and Hendrick unless O'Neill has an ace up his sleeve. Eunan O'Kane David Meyler and Stephen Gleeson are alternative options.

Moldova have a poor recent record and followed up an opening night 4-0 loss away to Wales with a 3-0 reverse at home to Serbia on Thursday.

O'Neill did take heart with the Irish fortitude in the decisive phase of the Georgian encounter, and feels their mentality is a cause for optimism.

"Whatever the team lacks and (there may be) certain things, we've shown over the last two years they keep going. We drive on," he said.

"They don't give in, in that sense, and don't give up on what might be a difficult cause. On Thursday, we knew the importance of winning the game and we won it."

Shane Long is expected to train today after he reacted well to a late knock in the Georgian encounter. Hendrick also opted to travel with the group despite his unavailability. Brady left the camp after being cleared by the FAI medical staff. He spent Thursday night in hospital and underwent a precautionary scan which went well.

Meanwhile, the FAI have announced that Uruguay will visit Dublin on June 4 next year for a friendly international.

Irish Independent

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