Sport Soccer

Saturday 20 January 2018

Aidan O'Hara: Wing and a prayer simply isn't good enough for Ireland

LIKE most things in life, those who play football usually want what they don't have. In the case of this column, that desire would start with pace, then a bit of composure in possession and, finally, the ability to dribble past an opponent.

Tackle centre-forwards very hard? There's a few bruises (on them) to prove that happened. Head in where it hurts? That'll be the twice broken nose. Kick the ball a long way in a clearance? Several broken windows testify to that one.

But, like most people who play the game and then pay to watch others play it better than them, the levels of passion far out-weighed that of skill.

Perhaps that's why it's so frustrating to see someone who can perform tricks that even in their dreams would cause most people to fall over, and then fail to do anything useful immediately afterwards.

No matter whether it's the local park or in front of thousands of supporters, the reaction when the tricky, fast winger gets the ball and faces his opponent is always the same.

Expectation levels rise and usually manifest themselves with phrases such as "skin him", "take him on" or "have a go at him". The next time you hear any of those phrases, you won't have to listen too carefully for the one that follows seconds later: "ah for f***'s sake" as another flash of hope is extinguished.

In Aiden McGeady, Ireland have a player who ticks so many boxes of what a winger should be but, like a new medication, should come with a 'may cause irritation' label.

Twenty minutes into Friday night's game, McGeady performed the sort of drag and step-over trick that would have computer game makers salivating but followed it with a cross that would only have been converted if the love child of Peter Crouch and Nikola Zigic had been playing at centre-forward.

Playing on the left wing, McGeady has been encouraged to cut inside onto his 'good' foot yet his effort with 20 minutes remaining again produced a moment of expectation when he jinked in from the wing, followed by the inevitable groan when he dragged his shot wide.

It might be unfair to take two isolated incidents and hold them up as cases for the prosecution, but, with wingers so often on the periphery, especially in teams with so little possession as Ireland, such moments don't come around too often.

Perhaps it's God's fault that when he gave footballers searing pace and supreme skill, he took away a little something from their footballing intelligence to give lumbering defenders a chance.

There is the odd freak like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo who can have the speed of thought to rifle through their box of tricks several times in a few seconds, but, in the case of most wingers, the feet appear to work much faster than the brain.

Shaun Wright-Phillips, Aaron Lennon and Theo Walcott have been racing at warp speed up and down the sidelines of the Premier League for years producing a mix of excitement and exasperation that, when they do something decent every seven or eight games, it earns them a place for the next week when the super-fast dance starts again.

At the other end of this scale was David Beckham, a player who at times looked as though he was running on a treadmill but was more concerned with how many goals he set up rather than how many men he "skinned" and, for several years, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Dwight Yorke or Andy Cole were grateful.

Unfortunately, during the course of his 41 caps for Ireland, McGeady has too often fallen into the former category.

Against Slovakia, his defensive efforts were superb but with two full-backs who rarely overlap and two central midfield barbers (passes go short, back and sides), his main task, like that of Damien Duff, is to create from limited opportunities.

Many Celtic and Spartak Moscow supporters will defend him against the charge of a poor end product but, given the dominance in possession these teams often enjoy in their league games, McGeady has a greater number of chances to make up for his mistakes.

In a green shirt, his inconsistency becomes a recurring theme.

On Friday, Ireland's two best chances came from the wings but, although Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne mistimed their headers, both were created because neither Damien Duff nor Stephen Hunt showed interest in beating their opponent but, instead, simply put it in an area where it could be attacked.

Afterwards, McGeady admitted his frustration and that he didn't feel 100pc which, while a fair reason, is also an indictment of the player and manager that he stayed on the pitch for as long as he did.

At best it shows courage, at worst it's a selfishness that hurts the team.

Tomorrow in Moscow, the opposition will know what to expect and, to a degree, will fear what McGeady is capable of doing.

Unfortunately, the difference between might happen and what actually does has often proved too great.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport