Tuesday 24 April 2018

'No Irish player would be good enough to get into Chris Coleman's Wales team' - Robbie Savage

Wes Hoolahan and Martin O'Neill and (inset) Robbie Savage who was appearing to promote the BT Sport line-up on the eir Sport Pack,
Wes Hoolahan and Martin O'Neill and (inset) Robbie Savage who was appearing to promote the BT Sport line-up on the eir Sport Pack,
Savage: Confident in Wales. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
David Kelly

David Kelly

If Wes Hoolahan finds it difficult enough to get into the Irish national team, Robbie Savage doesn't think he would get the near the Welsh XI.

Wes is not alone, though.

Savage makes a living by puncturing delusions of grandeur so little persuasion is required when asked to assess the relative merits of the two nations ahead of a potential play-off for an, erm, potential play-off, in Cardiff next month.

Because the former Welsh international reckons none of the side that featured in the Aviva on Tuesday night would be capable of togging out for Chris Coleman's men.

"When you narrow it down to the facts and narrow it down to the Irish team, how many of them would get into the Wales or Serbia team starting XI?" asks the pundit, brought to Dublin by BT Sport to answer questions, temporarily forgetting his brief.

"Tell me, I'm asking the question. It's not rocket science. Seamus Coleman would if he was fit. Somebody said Shane Duffy to me, would he get into the three centre-halves with Wales?

"Wales' best three centre-halves are Ben Davies, Ashley Williams, you could throw in James Collins but he's not in the West Ham side and wasn't in the squad but you have Chester. Would Duffy get in there? Possibly but possibly not.

Would Robbie Brady get in? Not ahead of Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale. Would Shane Long get in? I'm not so sure as Hal Robson-Kanu is scoring goals in the Premier League this year. When you look at it, with the exception of certain starter Coleman, who gets in?

"Jon Walters did great for Stoke and now plays for Burnley but does he start regularly for them? Shane Long the same.

"I heard about getting balls into the box but I haven't seen Long or Walters scoring too many goals from headers this season or last season, but people say they have to get the ball forward quickly.

"So how can Martin O'Neill do it with the players he has? I look from the outside in and ask, the group of players Ireland have, what can they achieve?

"What style or formation are they? Are they a long-ball side, but then they don't have a Niall Quinn, they miss Robbie Keane massively. Long likes to run in behind, Walters doesn't play for Burnley. In the middle Brady is a good player, good set-piece taker, but if I am looking at that side, am I worried about playing Ireland? No."

Savage had already entertained his Irish audience on Twitter when failing either to recognise the clamour about Wes Hoolahan on RTé; nor too the loquacious pundit who was leading the clamour.

It takes one to know one.

"There was a comment like if, 'Wes Hoolahan played against Georgia we'd have got three points' which I find quite hard to believe," the former Wales international tells us, "the reliance on Wes Hoolahan, a 35-year-old guy who doesn't play consistently in the Championship.

"How can a nation of Ireland's size follow a guy who doesn't play week in, week out in the Championship yet if you'd played him in Georgia they might have got three points? I've been to Georgia with Wales and they are tough places to go and any point you get, to me, is a good point.

"I respect Wes Hoolahan. He's done well but if he can pick a pass regularly, I'm sure he'd start for Norwich every game in the Championship yet this Wes Hoolahan has got to start for Ireland. If Ireland are just relying solely on Wes Hoolahan, then what does that say?"

It says Wales will probably beat Ireland in Cardiff.

"What Wales have shown in the last few games is that, unlike Ireland where Wes Hoolahan is the key player, Gareth Bale in the last campaign was unbelievable, almost single-handedly got them there, but in the last two games, Ben Woodburn has stepped up, Robson-Kanu, Ramsey.

When Gareth Bale attacks two players he leaves space for other players, and I think Ireland can't do that. And yet you all expect them to be winning games 3-0, playing beautiful, attractive football with players they haven't got. I don't get it."

Ireland will find it tough to get it in Cardiff. When they met in Dublin, neither seemed able to win. In Wales, neither side can afford to lose.

Wales have not lost, and have conceded just two goals, in their last seven competitive games in Cardiff City Stadium.

"I'm sure they could fill the Principality for Ireland but I think the 30,000 at the Cardiff City Stadium makes for an electric atmosphere and in the big moments Wales produce," adds Savage.

"The big difference is Wales have got players who can produce in the big moments. Aaron Ramsey scored in FA Cup finals, Gareth Bale has won three European Cups.

"Big moments, big players step up and, unfortunately for Ireland, if you're relying on Wes Hoolahan to go to Cardiff and be the best player on the park, you might go out."

eir Sport today announced an exciting line up of live content for the new season on the eir Sport Pack. The UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Europa League, the Premier League, rugby's European Champions Cup, the AIB Club Championships and the Allianz Leagues will all form part of a bumper season ahead.

Irish Independent

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