Thursday 19 July 2018

'I don't think we have the ability to disrespect anybody' - Martin O'Neill looks ahead to crucial World Cup qualifier

Stephen Ward, Robbie Brady, Ciaran Clark and Daryl Murphy during training in Abbotstown yesterday. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Stephen Ward, Robbie Brady, Ciaran Clark and Daryl Murphy during training in Abbotstown yesterday. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The opposition players may not trip off the tongue easily but Ireland are not embarking on a trip into the unknown this week.

They should know what to expect in Tbilisi with recent difficulties against Georgia fresh in the mind and a lunchtime discussion with some senior players yesterday gave Martin O'Neill encouragement that eyes really are on the first leg of this double-header.

Serbia come to town next Tuesday and if the current joint leaders both succeed in winning their Saturday games then that game could effectively end up deciding who progresses automatically to the finals.

But while the Serbs should get the job done against Moldova in Belgrade, O'Neill's men face an extremely difficult game against a side who probably feel they owe Ireland one.

Aiden McGeady grabbed a late winner in Tbilisi three years ago in a game that was set for a draw. Seamus Coleman's scrappy goal last October scraped three points.

"I was speaking to three or four lads who've been around the squad for some time earlier," said O'Neill after Ireland's first training session of the week. "And it was good to hear that they think the Georgia game is really difficult. This is the match.

"It's good to think that there is total concentration on this game because I don't think we have the ability to disrespect anybody. Disrespect may be too strong a word, but to treat anybody lightly. I don't think we're good enough to do that and that's not a disservice to my team."

Georgia's most noteworthy result in this campaign was their draw in Cardiff that followed the painful defeat in Dublin. They failed to build on it, taking just two points from a possible six against Moldova.

It paints the picture of a side that can flatter to deceive, but then Scotland were caught out by them right at this point of the Euro 2016 campaign with Ireland benefiting.

Read more: Hourihane aiming to enhance Rebels' roll of honour in Irish midfield

They are the strongest of the bottom-seeded sides," said O'Neill. "In each of the games that they've played, not just against us, they've played very well in matches but, for one reason or another, haven't been able to sustain it over the full 90 minutes.

"I am surprised because I think they have a number of really decent players. They caused us all sorts of problems in the first half of our game but then they did the same to Wales and, in fairness, took the lead against Serbia and missed a decent chance to make it 2-0 so it will be a tough game for us."

O'Neill thinks it is fair to take the view that the absence of Premier League players or recognisable names in Georgia's ranks can alter the perception, and he batted off talk of the importance of goal difference.

"I would take any win against them," he stressed, "When I look at a lot of the Eastern European teams, there are skilful players, very decent technically, and it's a matter of getting that sort of camaraderie about them.

"They are definitely a talented side, one to be very concerned (about) which I would be anyway."

That respect will explain why he has leaned towards the tried and trusted in the selection of his final panel of 25.

Preston's Sean Maguire and Reading's Liam Kelly are two emerging talents, but they missed out on the cut along with Paul McShane, John Egan, Alex Pearce, Matt Doherty, Stephen Quinn, Alan Browne and Kevin Doyle.

Injury has ruled out Eunan O'Kane, James McCarthy and Jeff Hendrick although the latter is hopeful of featuring against the Serbs.

It helps that O'Neill does have options in midfield. Glenn Whelan, Harry Arter and Robbie Brady were the first three players he listed and they could feasibly end up as the central combination - Wes Hoolahan and David Meyler are the other players in that equation although Meyler sat out full training yesterday along with Jon Walters and Keiren Westwood.

Walters is making good progress from his ankle issue and worked with physio Tony McCarthy yesterday and O'Neill says he would not be afraid to throw the talisman into the fray with a curtailed prep.

Brady has kicked off the season impressively at Burnley, with a tremendous assist for their equaliser on Sunday, and O'Neill reiterated his view that the Dubliner found it hard to come to terms with his post-Euro 2016 status. His versatility hasn't always lent itself to stability at club level either.

"I think after the Euros, there was a time when he went back to Norwich where I think maybe he thought it would just carry on," said O'Neill. "But sometimes it doesn't materialise.

I always thought it would take a little bit of time for him to settle in at Burnley and also I think the manager now has more belief in him which is good.

"Robbie has got to a stage where I think he's getting on top of it. He's performing, he made the goal late on Sunday and I thought he didn't do too badly when I saw him playing against Chelsea. I think he can adapt to any position for us because games come around intermittently.

"At club level, just say you're playing left back one week, then left side midfield, then wide on the right coming in - which he was doing for a period of the game the other day - that eventually might affect you. He might prefer a certain position (in the longer term).

"But I think Robbie is one of those lads who's, 'listen, just give me a shout between one and 11 and I'm in and playing."

He will have no fears about being selected this week. But O'Neill has plenty to worry about between now and Saturday.


Goalkeepers: Randolph (Middlesbrough), Elliot (Newcastle), Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday)

Defenders: Christie (Middlesbrough), Keogh (Derby Co), Duffy (Brighton), Clark (Newcastle), O'Shea (Sunderland), K Long, Ward (Burnley)

Midfielders: McGeady (Sunderland), Whelan, Hourihane (Aston Villa), Arter (Bournemouth), Meyler (Hull), Brady (Burnley), Hoolahan (Norwich), McClean (West Brom), Horgan (Preston), Hayes (Celtic), O'Dowda (Bristol City)

Forwards: Walters (Burnley), S Long (Southampton), Murphy (Nottingham Forest), McGoldrick (Ipswich Town)

Irish Independent

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