Saturday 18 November 2017

Desperately seeking strikers to boost our World Cup bid

Martin O’Neill is badly missing Robbie Keane. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin O’Neill is badly missing Robbie Keane. Photo: Sportsfile

Seán Ryan

Following Tuesday's dour defeat to Iceland, Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill sent out this appeal: "If you know of another Robbie Keane, I'd like to hear from you."

After 180 minutes of goal-less football from his ageing strike force, O'Neill was lamenting that his time at the helm coincided with the last days of Ireland's record goalscorer.

In his squad for the games against Wales and Iceland, he named five strikers: Shane Long (30), Kevin Doyle (33, 34 in September), Jonathan Walters (33, 34 in September), Daryl Murphy (34) and Adam Rooney (29). Where are the representatives of the next generation?

It was when I enquired if he or his staff had had a look at Rory Gaffney, the Galway striker with League One side Bristol Rovers, that O'Neill lamented the loss of Keane and the need to find another of his ilk. That he didn't address the question directly seems to suggest that Gaffney's name meant nothing to him.

However, it might be necessary to probe further than Championship level if he is to find the answer to his current dilemma. Hoping that the present ageing stock will do enough to get us to Russia 2018 represents an almighty gamble, so an infusion of young blood sooner rather than later is needed.

Ireland have always operated with a shallow pool of striking talent, and the present is no different. None of the strikers in O'Neill's squad are setting the world alight with their clubs, and so it's no surprise that the source of goals at international level has shifted more to our midfielders, wingers and full-backs.

While the absence of Wes Hoolahan, our main creative influence, didn't help, there were plenty of experienced players in the side in both games, yet there was no sign of a goal. The absence of shots at goal in both games was also a worry, and surely a red light for O'Neill.

So where are the next generation, and what are their chances of figuring in the forthcoming friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay to state their case? Only O'Neill can answer the second part of that question, but here are three names for him to consider:

Sean Maguire (Cork City) 23: If it's a player in the mould of Robbie Keane that O'Neill is looking for, then he should keep an eye on Maguire. He has Keane's pace, predatory instinct, and the ability to be a magnet to the ball once it is in the penalty area. Since he linked up with manager John Caulfield at Turner's Cross, Maguire has been scoring goals for fun, so if ever there was a form player to choose from, this is him. Also, following the instant success of ex-Dundalk duo Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle, there is no need for O'Neill to have reservations about promoting another top League of Ireland Premier Division talent.

Paddy Madden (Scunthorpe United) 27: Has a good pedigree, having graduated from Pat Fenlon's Bohemians team to the English League, where he has been a 20-plus goals a season on more than one occasion for Yeovil and Scunthorpe, and is on track to hit more than 20 again this season. Another in the mould of Keane as a penalty-box poacher, Madden was capped once by Giovanni Trapattoni, but that can't be held against him. Deserving of another chance.

Rory Gaffney (Bristol Rovers), 28: The redhead from Galway is a dark horse in this race, as he is not a prolific goalscorer, but what appeals is his ability to master each level as he has climbed the rungs from League of Ireland First Division with Mervue United, to Premier Division with Limerick, to League Two with Cambridge United and Bristol Rovers, to League One. It makes one wonder what his real potential is, if he were given the chance to play with better players. A strong, pacey player, with a cracking shot, he has a great attitude, and displays vision and intelligence in his play, factors which are not as common as one would like in the game, but are highly prized by top-level managers.

All through his managerial career, it has been O'Neill's hallmark to take players from lesser clubs and turn them into players who can do the job he requires at a higher level. Maguire, Madden or Gaffney are players who should interest him, not only because of his ability to make them better players, but more especially because they could represent that infusion of young blood which his strike force needs if Ireland are to stay competitive right through the World Cup campaign.

When Wales were down to ten men, and Ireland had the upper hand, O'Neill's only option to refresh his striking pair Long and Walters was Kevin Doyle. O'Neill didn't give him a call. In such situations, young blood, more likely to run tired defenders ragged, should be on call. Hopefully that will be the case the next time.

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