Wednesday 22 November 2017

Irish schemers Wes Hoolahan and Aiden McGeady hitting top form at perfect time

On-song Ireland duo Hoolahan and McGeady could have big part to play in next month's crucial World Cup qualifier against Wales

Hoolahan picked up an injury playing for Norwich
Hoolahan picked up an injury playing for Norwich
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The pictures of Gareth Bale back in group training with Real Madrid extinguished any lingering hope that Wales might come to Dublin next month without their star man.

His international manager Chris Coleman was always confident he would make it with one extremely pessimistic report in a Spanish media outlet the main source of Irish hope.

Robbie Brady strikes his free kick perfectly to score for Burnley. Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images
Robbie Brady strikes his free kick perfectly to score for Burnley. Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Granted, the Welsh camp will be hoping that Madrid stick with their original plan to ease Bale into the fold rather than take a risk that could ask too much of his ankle.

But it appears that the Bale story can be parked for now and Irish preparations leading into the March 24 showdown will have to centre around the health of their own stars.

Optimistic

On the face of it, the weekend action in England offered plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

Who needs Bale when Ireland have Robbie Brady, right? His set-piece magic to claim a point from the visit of champions-elect Chelsea illustrated why Burnley have made him their record signing and highest paid player on circa £30,000 per week.

Fellow-Irishmen Daryl Horgan, Alan Browne and Greg Cunningham join in as Aiden McGeady celebrates after scoring for Preston.
Fellow-Irishmen Daryl Horgan, Alan Browne and Greg Cunningham join in as Aiden McGeady celebrates after scoring for Preston.

But Brady is suspended for the Wales encounter on account of the daft booking he picked up in Vienna, the only low point from that wonderful night that put Ireland in control of their World Cup destiny.

Martin O'Neill will have to cope without his inspiration in the derby encounter with our Celtic neighbours. So the natives will have to look elsewhere for creativity.

James McClean has been the talisman so far in this campaign, yet he hasn't started a league game for West Brom since October with in-form players ahead of him in the pecking order. He is still involved most weeks, just as an impact sub rather than as a starter.

Shane Long is also confined to that role at Southampton, even if he has struck a run of form, while Jon Walters is recuperating from a knee injury which has made his position uncertain.

On the plus side, however, it was a spectacular Saturday for the Irish in the Championship in every sense of the word. Irish goals from the top drawer peppered the highlights coverage.

Ironically enough, Brady might have been keen to stay at Norwich if they were pushing for automatic promotion.

They lost their way completely before Christmas to leave manager Alex Neil on the brink, and the exclusion of Wes Hoolahan from their side during that period makes even less sense now that the Canaries have won five of their six games since he was restored.

Destroyed

The 34-year-old struck one of the best goals of his career, volleying the ball over the unfortunate Stephen Henderson from 30 yards as Norwich destroyed Forest by a 5-1 scoreline to move into seventh spot. Suddenly, the play-offs are an option.

Granted, at this stage of his career, Hoolahan may not play every week. He was left out of their FA Cup exploits with Norwich managing his game-time. Martin O'Neill is an advocate of using the schemer at the right time instead of all the time.

James McCarthy's fitness would be a greater concern at this moment in time given that one game in seems to be followed by one game out; he sat out Everton's draw at Middlesbrough with another hamstring complaint. Harry Arter has endured a stop-start run at Bournemouth too, while suspension has given Jeff Hendrick a chance to recharge batteries.

Hoolahan has featured in all of Ireland's better moments under O'Neill and he should have the Welsh date circled in the calendar.

But the real positive story of the weekend was Preston. Daryl Horgan got off the mark for his new club with a late goal in the comprehensive drubbing of Brentford.

The ex-Dundalk winger has eased into his new surroundings, and he was always going to find it easier than Richie Towell because he is more adaptable in terms of position. He has started games on the right side of midfield.

That's because Aiden McGeady is settled on the left and, right now, McGeady is arguably the form Irish option in the second tier.

He is loving life under Simon Grayson, a manager who has encouraged the Glaswegian to concentrate on what he is good at and focus on terrorising opponents with his trickery. Other players have been tasked with the defensive duties.

McGeady scored a goal in each half against Brentford, an early driving run and finish with his left-footer was later followed by twinkle toes and an arrow to the top corner with his right boot.

The 30-year-old is still on loan from Everton but, at this stage of his career, he needs to be in a place where he is valued.

When confident, he remains capable of posing serious problems. He had a minor role in Lille last June, a forgotten one as he picked the ball up in midfield and then fed Hoolahan who crossed for Brady to do the rest.

The goalscorer will be missing in a month's time, but the other duo have a major role to play. After all, Wales do have a squad packed with Championship-level defenders.

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