Monday 20 November 2017

John Giles: It's all to play for against Germany and Poland

Read John Giles' exclusive column every Wednesday in the Herald

Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill

It is never easy to make a judgement on a team without access to all the angles. In Ireland, we parse and analyse Martin O'Neill's selections down to fine detail but we could never say we have the same grasp of Germany or Poland.

That's why I find it very difficult to assess Ireland's chances against Jogi Low and his players or the Poles in Warsaw.

The filter we view Germany and Poland through is a dark one. The World Champions project an image and we balance that against what we know about Ireland's players. For that reason, the common wisdom would be that we will lose to Germany.

But in our last game against them we drew. Sure, it took something out of the ordinary to get the equaliser and they left it late but a point was won against the odds.


In Poland's case, they look like a better team than Ireland but our main reference for that is the game in the Aviva against Poland back in March.

We don't know the detail of the day to day dynamic in either squad. For all we know, there could be a terrible atmosphere in both camps.

Perspective changes depending on which team you support and how well they are doing. The players don't change and neither does the manager.

I'm sure Scottish fans are now looking at Ireland and O'Neill and thinking ominously about the fact that his defence doesn't leak very many goals and that the team has a habit of pulling something positive out of almost hopeless situations.

From our point of view, we wonder how O'Neill and his team got into those hopeless situations and see that as the most significant feature of the team.

There is no other way to paint the picture of what has happened in the last four or five days. Ireland went from a position where everyone, fans, pundits and everyone else apart from O'Neill believed we would need a favour and more than likely, we would not get it.

But we did and after an amount of huffing and puffing, got the job done against Georgia as well, transforming a bleak picture into something much more positive; from two points behind to four points ahead in the blink of an eye.

Ideally, O'Neill would prefer to set out for Warsaw with the job done. It could fall that way if he could find a result against Germany and Scotland slip-up again on the same night against Poland.

Underlying all of this is the continuing debate about how O'Neill is getting on with his job and the sense that so far, we have yet to see any consistency emerge in the way Ireland play under him.

Defensively, it is difficult to have any big beef with O'Neill's record. Just five goals conceded in the group and that's the kind of form that will get you close to qualification.


Offensively, it's a different story as indeed it is in midfield. I think I'm ready to close the book on James McCarthy as the man to lead Ireland. He will do a job he is given but on the evidence so far, he is just not equipped to lead the team.

Glenn Whelan did a lot of the heavy lofting against Georgia and McCarthy was anonymous. Until he drove into the Georgian penalty area for the goal, Jeff Hendrick was just as quiet.

Wes Hoolahan is in favour but would he not be better used in the centre of the pitch where his ability will have the greatest impact instead of wide on the left?

And I suspect we have seen the last of Robbie Keane as a match starter. This game proved that he cannot play twice in quick succession and being realistic, his legs are certainly not up to a battle with Germany.

As things stand, the man who is playing the biggest leadership role is Jon Walters who has been absolutely outstanding since the start of this campaign. He's like a good wine, ageing nicely.

He is honest, works harder than anyone and leads by example. The goal against saved his team he has been Ireland's best player for a couple of years.

He has great self-belief and energy and if anyone other than O'Neill believes Ireland can get a result from Germany, it's him.

We need more like him.

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