Thursday 23 November 2017

Paul McGrath: This Irish side is better than they think they are - we can produce much more than we did on Saturday

11 November 2017; Robbie Brady of Republic of Ireland reacts during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-off 1st Leg match between Denmark and Republic of Ireland at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
11 November 2017; Robbie Brady of Republic of Ireland reacts during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-off 1st Leg match between Denmark and Republic of Ireland at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Paul McGrath

Paul McGrath

I was so frustrated watching Ireland in Denmark on Saturday because I felt our players were capable of delivering so much more on what was a massive night for our national team.

We have earned the right to compete in a play-off after some fine performances in the qualifying group and while a 0-0 draw is never a bad result away from home, I felt the chance was there for us to aim for even more.

Denmark didn’t offer too much and looked as nervous as we did, but I feel that this Ireland team is better than they may think they are and should have the belief to get the ball down and play a little more football on the ground.

I’d have love to have seen James McClean piling forward into the Danish half and Jeff Hendrick getting onto the ball and spraying the ball around, but that doesn’t seem to be the way we play at international level.

I’m a huge fan of Robbie Brady, but he seemed keen to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible whenever it came near him.

Okay, so clearly the message from Martin O’Neill and his coaching staff may have been that our best chance of getting a result in this game would have been with a set-piece, but the Danish defence looked edgy when Cyrus Christie went through and had an effort on goal in the first half and on the fleeting occasions when we got forward in the second half.

Yet those attacking bursts were few and far between and it was our good fortune that Denmark lacked the quality and also the ambition to break down an Ireland team content to get men behind the ball.

What would have happened if we had committed a few more men forward and played with a little more ambition? I believe the away goal was there for the taking and we didn’t try hard enough to get it.

On the plus side, I have to put in a few words for out talisman at the back Shane Duffy, who was quite magnificent at the heart of the Ireland defence once again.

Shane did a brilliant interview in the Sunday World last weekend and he very kindly suggested I was one of his role models when he was a kid.

In return, I’d like to pay tribute to the displays he has put in for Ireland in the last few years, with his bravery in aerial challenges and his positional sense coming on so much since he has worked with Chris Hughton at Brighton.

He is a real leader at the back for Ireland and in a game that was lacking attacking verve, big Duffy stood proud as the outstanding player on the pitch.

Ireland could do with a few more Shane Duffy’s and if he has any brothers and friends who can play with the heart and quality he shows for club and country every week, then we need them in this Ireland squad.

Harry Arter also put in a tireless display in the heart of the midfield and now Martin and his assistant Roy Keane will have to sit down and consider what they need to change for the home leg of this evenly balanced tie.

In the end, we take a 0-0 and have a shoot out in Dublin on Tuesday. While it was hard to get too excited by what we saw on Saturday night, let’s stay positive and believe we can enjoy a night to remember at the Aviva Stadium in the second leg.

The first target had to be making sure we were still in the game heading into the second leg and we will not play as poorly as we did in Copenhagen when we get to the Aviva Stadium.

David Meyler may be a contender to start in the second leg after his magnificent performance in Wales and the team may need to be freshened up after what would have been a draining night both physically and mentally with all the pressure that was on that game.

Maybe Shane Long will start in the home leg, where we need to see more from McClean and Brady as an attacking force and if we can score first in front of that magnificent Dublin crowd, they could carry us over the line.

We are 90 minutes away from our first World Cup since 2002 and Martin and his coaching staff would have jumped at the opportunity in front of us now if it was offered to us at the start of this qualifying campaign.

We now know for sure that Denmark have very little to frighten us and so long as we make sure we don’t get too carried away with the prize up for grabs in front of our own fans, we have a real chance of seeing an Ireland team qualify for the World Cup on Tuesday.

We may have missed an opportunity to get even more out of the away leg, but let’s believe that we will all be celebrating when it matters most.

Read Paul McGrath every week in The Sunday World.

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