Thursday 22 August 2019

John Giles: Ireland are very, very ordinary without Wes Hoolahan but Martin O'Neill can't see it

Read John Giles' exclusive column every week in The Herald

Martin O'Neill, inset, opted against starting Wes Hoolahan against Austria
Martin O'Neill, inset, opted against starting Wes Hoolahan against Austria

John Giles

I have to admit, I’m weary with this debate about Wes Hoolahan and annoyed that Martin O’Neill cannot see what is obvious to me and many others.

How much evidence does he need to see that Hoolahan is the best thing Ireland has and without him, the team is very, very ordinary?

This was two points dropped and it could have been an awful lot worse if Austria were half a team and had the courage of their convictions.

I thought Austria were poor in Vienna and if anything they were worse in this game despite a solid spell in the first-half which produced their goal and more than one chance to get another.

They were there to be beaten and once again, Ireland has found it difficult to wear the favourites tag in a home game.

I said before the game that O’Neill had to start with Hoolahan and I was very disappointed to see the line-up without him.

Instead of starting the game on the front foot with Hoolahan doing what he does best and putting Ireland firmly on the offensive, O’Neill chose Glenn Whelan as a holding midfielder and told his players to hit long balls.

This was agricultural stuff and handed the initiative to Austria.

When Hoolahan came on, everything changed. Suddenly, there was a way through to goal and suddenly, the Austrian defence looked like it might give one up every time the ball came anywhere near their penalty area.

They eventually conceded two, one disallowed after the first was scored by Jon Walters, a fantastic servant for Ireland and not for the first time, O’Neill’s saviour.

He had precious little to work with for almost the entire game and he ran himself to a standstill but when he got the chance, his approach play and finish were absolutely top drawer.

I thought Shane Duffy’s goal was perfectly legal but to be honest, it was hard to argue with the result because there were several near misses at the other end which, on another day, might have been converted.

O’Neill has made a virtue out of finding results from big games when the consensus view would not favour his team.

But this time, Ireland started as justifiable favourites against a team I don’t rate and made things an awful lot harder than they needed to be.

It’s an old, old story with Ireland and maybe someday, O’Neill will have the courage to trust a player like Wes Hoolahan.

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