Friday 20 April 2018

Defiant manager showers praise on loyal servants Walters and Randolph

Randolph: Crucial save. Photo: Sportsfile
Randolph: Crucial save. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The bulk of Martin O'Neill's post-match press conference was taken up by his frustration with refereeing decisions.

But there was also praise for two stars of the Euro 2016 campaign Jonathan Walters and Darren Randolph who bounced back to form to keep the World Cup show on the road.

Walters's equaliser was preceded by an excellent stop from Randolph and O'Neill was content that he made the right decision to stick with the Bray goalkeeper ahead of alternative option Keiren Westwood.

He had spoken about making big calls during the week but attention was focused in the wrong direction as he was preparing to give Kevin Long a competitive debut ahead of John O'Shea and Richard Keogh. The Irish boss was planning to stick with the out-of-favour West Ham stopper.

"Darren Randolph has done absolutely nothing wrong for us," said O'Neill, "Maybe I'll answer it this way. He lost his place at club level, that's fine, but he's been terrific for us.

"And if I was to go and not play everybody whose lost their place at club level, I wouldn't have many players left to choose from.

"He came on at a moment's notice against Germany a way back (October 2015) and has held his position since.

"I've got a lot of time for both goalkeepers, I don't think there's much between them but there was no reason to take Randolph out of the team."

Walters always plays when available but his Euros was ruined by injury problems, which was cruel after his play-off heroics carried Ireland to France.

His 14th international goal puts him joint-eighth in the all-time scoring list, next to Noel Cantwell and Kevin Doyle.

O'Neill's regard for the Stoke attacker shines through in his words.

"In the first 15 to 20 minutes, Jon was isolated," he said.

"We weren't giving the best service to him. Sometimes we were just having to flick things on.

"But to speak about Jon himself. He's not the quickest but he's got a real knowledge of the game. A great will which he showed in the European Championships for us during our qualification.

"He was our talisman. He is totally invaluable to us and his performance, particularly in the second-half, was just tremendous."

The same words would not apply to the overall contribution of Euro stars Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick, who found it hard to reach the same heights 12 months on.

Both were moved around positionally during the game, and the manager indicated that it perhaps excused the Burnley pair for falling below standards - certainly in the case of Brady anyway.

"Not everybody can play well all the time," continued O'Neill.

"We had too many who didn't play well for long periods and I was thankful we were only a goal behind at half-time.

"As regards the two players, they are still fine players. Robbie went back to left-back and gave us some attacking options with the game ahead of him."

Hendrick's youthfulness meant he was kept on the pitch while midfield partners Glenn Whelan and Harry Arter were withdrawn to make way for Wes Hoolahan and Aiden McGeady as Ireland chased the game.

Whelan's place was also thought to be under threat but he ended up with the armband.

"I thought he did very well for us, he did very well indeed," said his boss. "Obviously his age is catching up with him a bit, he got a wee bit tired. We wanted to get a bit more width into the side at that stage."

The first question O'Neill actually faced was from an Austrian who asked how Ireland had managed to take four points from a side that are clearly better than them.

He didn't quite answer it directly, yet it offered an insight into how the away camp viewed the outcome with one Austrian media outlet leading with the headline that it was a 1-1 loss for the guests.

Their manager Marcel Koller tried his best to be upbeat.

"There are still 12 points to earn this qualification and we want to try and get it as many as possible," he said.

Similar to Ireland in 2015, he's now hoping for a favour from Georgia.

Irish Independent

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