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Dion Fanning: Ireland avoid Polish misery but nobody can be overjoyed

When Shane Long equalised in injury-time at the Aviva on Sunday night, most of the Ireland team ran to celebrate with him but Jonathan Walters picked up the ball and brought it back to the centre circle.

Ireland had been heading towards defeat so the team rejoiced in anticipation of another famous draw but Walters recognised that victory was really what the team needed.

A loss would have effectively ended Ireland’s hopes of qualification but a point ensures that Ireland can still aim for a play-off if they beat Scotland in June.

Ireland had deserved an equaliser for the intensity of their play in the final 30 minutes but in the first half, they had lacked any quality.

Martin O’Neill had said a defeat would be a “big dent” in Ireland’s chances but for a long time his reputation also looked dented as it was impossible to detect any cohesion in Ireland’s play.

Throughout his career, O’Neill has always stressed that the result is all that matters so maybe he will overlook the performance on a night when for an hour, Ireland managed to nothing but demonstrate that the game in the country is in great decline.

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29 March 2015; Glenn Whelan, Republic of Ireland, in action against Arkadiusz Milik, Poland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Glenn Whelan, Republic of Ireland, in action against Arkadiusz Milik, Poland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Republic of Ireland's Shane Long, 9, celebrates with team-mates, from left to right, Seamus Coleman, Wesley Hoolahan and James McClean after scoring his side's equalising goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Republic of Ireland's Shane Long, 9, celebrates with team-mates, from left to right, Seamus Coleman, Wesley Hoolahan and James McClean after scoring his side's equalising goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Jon Walters, Republic of Ireland, is tackled by Lukasz Szukala, Poland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Jon Walters, Republic of Ireland, is tackled by Lukasz Szukala, Poland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Republic of Ireland's Shane Long, 9, celebrates with team-mates Wesley Hoolahan, left, and James McClean after scoring his side's equalising goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Republic of Ireland's Shane Long, 9, celebrates with team-mates Wesley Hoolahan, left, and James McClean after scoring his side's equalising goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Republic of Ireland's Shane Long, 9, celebrates with team-mates Wesley Hoolahan, left, and James McClean after scoring his side's equalising goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Republic of Ireland's Shane Long, 9, celebrates with team-mates Wesley Hoolahan, left, and James McClean after scoring his side's equalising goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, scores his side's equalising goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, scores his side's equalising goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, scores his side's equalising goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, scores his side's equalising goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, scores his side's equalising goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, scores his side's equalising goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, scores his side's equalising goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, scores his side's equalising goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Republic of Ireland fans celebrate after their side scored an equalising goal in the 90th minute. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Republic of Ireland fans celebrate after their side scored an equalising goal in the 90th minute. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Lukasz Fabianski, Poland, saves Mark Wilson's, Ireland, header. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Lukasz Fabianski, Poland, saves Mark Wilson's, Ireland, header. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; James McClean, Republic of Ireland, in action against Pawel Olkowski and Slawomir Peszko, right, Poland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; James McClean, Republic of Ireland, in action against Pawel Olkowski and Slawomir Peszko, right, Poland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Mark Wilson, second from left, Republic of Ireland, heads the ball goalward. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Mark Wilson, second from left, Republic of Ireland, heads the ball goalward. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Seamus Coleman, Republic of Ireland, watches as his strike on goal goes wide

Seamus Coleman, Republic of Ireland, watches as his strike on goal goes wide

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015;  Pawel Olkowski, Poland, clears under pressure from Robbie Keane, Republic of Ireland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Pawel Olkowski, Poland, clears under pressure from Robbie Keane, Republic of Ireland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Wesley Hoolahan, Republic of Ireland, in action against Grzegorz Krychowiak, Poland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Wesley Hoolahan, Republic of Ireland, in action against Grzegorz Krychowiak, Poland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill during the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill during the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill during the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill during the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Aiden McGeady, Republic of Ireland, in action against Kamil Glik, Poland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

29 March 2015; Aiden McGeady, Republic of Ireland, in action against Kamil Glik, Poland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

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29 March 2015; Glenn Whelan, Republic of Ireland, in action against Arkadiusz Milik, Poland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Poland. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

Ireland’s approach to the night was revealed in the opening seconds when Seamus Coleman ran forward enthusiastically but alone, a brave yet pointless gesture which immediately allowed Poland to move forward down their left side.

Ireland looked disjointed, reflecting a team selection which promised attack but was undermined by a desire to knock the ball forward, by-passing a midfield which included Wes Hoolahan, a player who can be the playmaker but only if his side want to play.

In the opening minutes, Ireland didn’t have possession as they were pressed back by a confident team. When they did have time, Ireland didn’t try to create and it became a familiar sight to see the ball drifting into the wide open spaces far from where any players were gathered.

There were brief moments of encouragement but they were affected by the general lack of cohesion. When Ireland took a quick free-kick, Hoolahan ran into space but scuffed a shot from the edge of the box

This was the beginning of a brief spell when Hoolahan and McCarthy got on the ball but it didn’t last long.

Hoolahan kept trying, dropping deeper and deeper to pick up the ball and receiving a yellow card when he chased back to make a tackle after he had lost possession.

McCarthy was simply fading away. If he was answering the criticism from Liam Brady, it was only to confirm it. In the final minutes, he was lucky to only get a yellow card when he pushed Sebastian Mila in the face.

Ireland’s midfield could claim that they had nothing to work with. Robbie Keane was having one of those nights when he effectively leaves Ireland with ten men, something which is usually the case except on those occasions when he scores. He came close during the frenetic final half an hour when he headed James McClean’s cross against the post.

As the game went on, Keane took on another familiar role, that of an on-the-field shop steward, making appeals on behalf of his co-workers for handballs and other misdemeanours.

Collective anxiety took hold with some like Robbie Brady suffering more than others.

O’Neill had to take responsibility for that problem too, having selected him to play left back, a position which he is only vaguely familiar with.

The extent of Brady’s struggles could be seen as he wasted a series of set-pieces and even when it was becoming clear that he was struggling, Ireland didn’t vary their routines, as if this was their instruction and they weren’t going to alter them.

Brady had allowed Poland in for the goal which was taken with purpose by Slawomir Peszko who swooped in after Maciej Rybus got in front of Marc Wilson. Poland had come to life in that moment but Shay Given could have done more.

Given was among O’Neill’s big decision but after a week’s preparation, in the first half Ireland looked like a team brought together for a charity game.

O’Neill’s work last week had focused on set-pieces but Grzegorz Krychowiak lost his man from a free-kick and headed over after 20 minutes and nine minutes later Peszko gave Poland the lead.

It did nothing for Ireland’s anxiety and if they had a lively spell just before half-time when Aiden McGeady chipped wide with an effort that lacked conviction.

Brady was still wasting free-kicks but one cross took a deflection and bounced back off the post.

Ireland’s play didn’t improve but they managed to play badly in more advantageous territory as the game disintegrated into a succession of fouls and stoppages.

Poland had dropped back as they tried to hold onto their lead but Ireland had few chances with Wilson heading into Lukasz Fabianski’s hands and Hoolahan not connecting properly after Keane had pulled the ball back to him.

There was passion, if nothing else and McClean’s introduction for McGeady had made a difference as he charged into tackles but also delivered dangerous crosses which exposed the weakness in Poland’s defence.

Coleman sliced wide at the end of another move and Ireland had Shane Long alongside Keane as they desperately searched for an equaliser.

It was all desperation but that still counts for something as Long picked up Hoolahan’s header from a corner and clipped the ball into Poland’s goal.

Ireland went for the winner in their chaotic fashion and the crowd roared. If they wanted positives, they could note that the new stadium can rock like the old one but the only truly satisfying thing for O’Neill might be the point that gives Ireland a chance.

If results are all that matter, it was a good night for Ireland but if other things are important, it was hard to be overjoyed.

Online Editors


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