| 12.3°C Dublin

O'Neill's rivals get too much credit


Ireland manager Martin O’Neill can enjoy a break as his team sits at the head of the table. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill can enjoy a break as his team sits at the head of the table. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill can enjoy a break as his team sits at the head of the table. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

I have an awful lot of time for Seamus Coleman but I have to take issue with something he said after Ireland's great win in Vienna.

It was a fantastic win and he was typically modest in his comments but as far as I'm concerned, a bit too modest.

What he said was that Ireland don't have the best group of players around but they will battle to the end and always impress us with their commitment and pride in playing for the shirt.

All of that is entirely accurate apart from this idea that Ireland's talent pool is somehow less than Austria, or Wales or even Serbia have.

The fact of the matter is that Ireland are top of a group which everyone was worried about and with something to spare over their supposedly superior rivals.

That would suggest that up to this point in proceedings, Ireland has the best talent pool of the bunch.

What it also underlines is something which has been clear for some time. There are no great teams anymore and there are not many good ones either.

Yet managers constantly hype up the opposition. Martin O'Neill does it for every match but he is not alone.

Giovanni Trapattoni did it, Brian Kerr did it, Steve Staunton did it, Mick McCarthy did it and yes, Jack Charlton did it.


The principle behind everything Jack did was the absence of trust in the players and the notion that left to their own devices, they would make all sorts of mistakes and leak goals.

Trapattoni had the same approach but I think the other Ireland managers were doing it because the level of expectation had been raised by Charlton's team and they needed to buy some breathing space.

The standard way to damp down giddiness is to remind everyone of the task at hand. No manager should ever be arrogant because that leads to complacency, which is every good footballer's biggest enemy.

I do believe that this is O'Neill's main motivation in talking down the quality in his squad but over time, it has accumulated and taken root.

I actually think that Seamus Coleman has heard that line about Ireland not having the players other teams have so often that he believes it.

But look at the evidence. Seamus is wrong and so is his boss.

O'Neill's squad is as strong as any other nation in the qualification race and so far, the strongest of them all.

The evidence for that argument is found in the points gathered from three away games, four of them against rivals for the top spot in the group and three against Moldova, another "tough" team.

When circumstances took Glenn Whelan off the pitch in Vienna and pitched David Meyler into the game, a shift occurred and an Ireland emerged which was better than Austria - much better.

After Belgrade, many felt it was a great point. For me, a good draw is when you should have been beaten and I thought Ireland could have won the game.

If they had played the way they did in the second half against Austria, they probably would have.

Meyler's performance is very relevant to the point I'm making. Whelan and James McCarthy take the holding role very seriously because it's an easy option.

It means they pass the ball back or sideways in moments where I see opportunity. Meyler took the harder road and tried to influence the game in a productive way.

He was looking up when he won the ball near his own box and saw Hoolahan free.

His first instinct was to attack, to get his team-mates onto the front foot. He was aggressive about it and I know he sometimes strays into wildness but I'll take that as long as he keeps trying to have an impact.

In many ways he is an odd champion for my point of view because he hasn't featured much and I'm not sure I would have seen him as that before he made such a big impact in Vienna.

But for me, that is exactly the point. Saying before a ball has even been kicked that a team will be tough to beat and that they have better players than Ireland is just nonsense .

Even an hour before the game, nobody could have foreseen that Meyler would emerge in the way he did and the lesson in that is painfully obvious.

Take each game on its merits, just as Meyler did. An opportunity presented itself for him and he grabbed it and ran with it.

That's the way football is and the way it should be.