Sunday 24 March 2019

Here are the 26 players capped under Martin O'Neill - but expect old guard to feature next month

Aiden O'Brien of Republic of Ireland and his team-mates following the Poland friendly
Aiden O'Brien of Republic of Ireland and his team-mates following the Poland friendly
Martin O’Neill has given plenty of players their first run-out in an Irish senior jersey. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It meant the world to the protagonists, yet it's entirely possible that Ireland's positive Polish exercise will be meaningless when Denmark and Wales visit town next month.

With his appearance in Wroclaw, goalscorer Aiden O'Brien became the 26th player to win a first senior international cap under the current management.

However, it's entirely possible that O'Neill could send out a team for the October 13 showdown with Denmark that is dominated by players that were already on the scene before his appointment.

Shane Duffy will play, and won his first cap under his fellow Derryman, although he was around the squad under Giovanni Trapattoni.

Declan Rice is a fresh face that would definitely be selected if he decided to make himself available.

Harry Arter has won all of his caps under O'Neill but even if he does make his peace with Roy Keane, it's possible that he would find himself behind a fully-fit Jeff Hendrick and a returning Robbie Brady and James McCarthy given that management do not actually rate the exiled midfielder particularly highly.

Callum O'Dowda is the one player that O'Neill has really fast-tracked and trusted in games of substance and he showed his quality in a starring display against the Poles.

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Cyrus Christie has established himself too, although his involvement could well be tied up in the concerns over Séamus Coleman's well-being as he didn't really thrive in Wales - although O'Neill actually praised the Fulham player's performance as an out-of-position, right-sided midfielder.

Beyond that, though, it is clear that the 66-year-old's priority is getting some old reliables back and that means Millwall duo Shaun Williams and O'Brien will have to prepare to step back into the shadows if his injury doubts recover.

Williams has the aforementioned midfielders to deal with, and McCarthy is the main candidate to be the defensive midfielder going forward if he can leave injuries behind him.

If the Glaswegian struggles to make a comeback, Williams is actually a superior option to David Meyler and Conor Hourihane if the manager wants his shield to build play from deep.

Shaun Williams in action for Ireland during the friendly match against France at the Stade de France in Paris last May. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"At international level sometimes the game can be very quick," O'Neill warned.

"It can also slow down as well. But I thought he (Williams) exuded calmness and I thought he brought that to our team."

O'Brien's chance came with Jon Walters, Shane Long, Sean Maguire and Scott Hogan out of the equation.

"It depends on a lot of things," said O'Neill when asked if the Millwall boys might have a role to play.

"Will the two of them be in the squad? Yes. But it depends where we are in terms of personnel."

Certainly, it would be quite an about turn if O'Neill used the friendly match to reach the conclusion that he actually did have strength in depth when the absence thereof was a main factor cited for the drubbing in Cardiff.

O'Neill said his squad was "decimated" and he brought an even weaker hand to Poland. A low-intensity workout is unlikely to have radically altered his thinking, much as the confidence boost from the result was welcomed.

It's possible that he will take something from the experiment with his formation, although the 3-5-2 dabbling is now a regular enough event in friendlies.

The manager has just failed to take the leap and use it for the duration of a proper match.

"We started to play it through midfield," said O'Neill, highlighting the difference from a similar experiment in Antalya in March.

"The idea was that if there's nothing forward, then don't lose possession. Be confident with it, come back the way and then we can go out the other side.


"Playing three at the back will help us during the course of proceedings as we go forward in the sense that whatever system we start with - at the least the players have now become adaptable - and if we do have to go with the wing-back situation, we have the players to do that."

The description was more in keeping with a Plan B rather than a new Plan A. Wolves' Matt Doherty is playing wing-back regularly at Premier League level, but O'Neill again offered a view which shows that he remains behind Christie in the pecking order if Coleman is out.

"When he's out wide he'll look to pass it infield again," said O'Neill. "I believe he can drive forward with it, like Cyrus Christie would."

The manager gave a cool response to the prospect of switching Doherty to left-back. Enda Stevens did himself no harm there - he had a better week than Stephen Ward anyway - but there is also the option to go for Brady.

For make-or-break games, expect a return for the tried and trusted.

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