Monday 20 November 2017

Brian Kerr: John O'Shea could be the defender left out for Ireland's Euro opener

Tom Rooney

Former Ireland manager Brian Kerr believes that when Martin O’Neill names his side to face Sweden a week from Monday, he may opt for same back four that fared so well in the play-off games against Bosnia and Herzegovina, which would mean the omission of John O’Shea.

One of the striking contrasts between Martin O’Neill and his predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni is their selection process. Like clockwork, the Italian picked a rigid 4-4-2, with same names featuring on his team sheet, regardless of form.

O’Neill, on the other hand, likes to keep us guessing. Over the course of the qualifying campaign for France, systems and players perpetually interchanged.

Nobody could ever accuse the former Celtic boss of being boring in that department. We’ve seen packed five-man midfields, narrow diamond quadrants, lone strikers, attacking pairings and the use of a classic number 10.

Which is why, speculating about the XI he’ll send out to face Sweden for Ireland’s opening game of the competition is a bit of a fool's errand. Of course, O’Neil will be in some way restricted by injury, with Robbie Keane and Jon Walters both struggling for fitness.

With regards to the other end of the pitch, Brian Kerr has put forward an interesting theory. He would be in no way shocked if John O’Shea, a man who O’Neill has publicly implored not to retire from international football at the conclusion of the competition, did not feature from the start against Ibrahimović and co.

As a result of his red card in the last qualifying game against Poland, O’Shea was unavailable for the first leg of the playoff tie against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

O’Neill decided to start Derby skipper Richard Keogh with Ciaran Clark at the heart of the defence, flanked by Seamus Coleman and Stephen Ward, with Darren Randolph between the sticks.

Robbie Brady was deployed in midfield and, from that position, scored Ireland’s precious away goal. A niggling hamstring problem precluded O’Shea from taking part in the return fixture, so O’Neill stuck with the same back four who, by the way, didn’t give Edin Dzeko a sniff.

Republic of Ireland's John O'Shea applauds fans at the end of the match. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters

The Derryman has experimented with four different centre half pairings in each of Ireland's four warm-up games since, but Kerr has a sneaking suspicion who we’re likely to see on June 13 in Paris.

“Because Richard Keogh and Ciaran Clark did so well against Bosnia and Herzegovina, I think John O’Shea was suspended for one and injured for the other, but I thought that unit did very well in front of Darren Randolph.

“I think Richard Keogh’s experience of having played in those massive games will keep him to the forefront and the most likely starter. But whether it’s John as his partner or Ciaran Clark, I wouldn’t know which way he’ll go.”

Subsequently, Kerr would return Brady to midfield, which only further muddies the water. 

“I think John has a bit of work to convince Martin, even though he’s been the captain, I think Shane Duffy has come in with a late run and is in the picture.

“But I wouldn’t be hugely surprised if John was on the bench and back four remained as it was, with Stephen Ward and Seamus Coleman as the full backs and Robbie Brady playing a bit further up the pitch.”

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