Sunday 18 November 2018

Stephen Hunt: Martin O'Neill got tactics spot-on but we can't play like that in Dublin

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill with Denmark manager Age Hareide. Photo: PA
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill with Denmark manager Age Hareide. Photo: PA
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

Buckle up, put your heart rate monitor on it's about to get very tense. If you thought last night in Copenhagen was edgy it was only the tip of the iceberg.

This is where the skill of the manager will come into play. Martin O'Neill will earn his money over the next three days. He needs to get the players into a positive frame of mind and get them playing on the front foot at home on Tuesday.

Playing defensively last night was the correct call but if they play like that on Tuesday then they will regret it for the rest of their lives.

They have an opportunity to become heroes, to qualify for a World Cup in front of a sold-out home crowd but they need courage to take that chance, and they need their manager to allow them to do that.

Our play-off game against France is remembered for one thing only and that is Thierry Henry's handball - if it wasn't for that incident it wouldn't be remembered at all.

This team don't want to suffer the same fate; they need to go for the game and control their own destiny. They are in a great position. They have everything to play for on Tuesday; they aren't chasing the game and they can take heart from that.

Last night wasn't the most attractive exciting game to watch but they got the job done.

It was obvious from the off last night that Denmark wanted a battle - my blood was up just watching it as a fan and I thought 'right let's have this'. That's the natural reaction when the tempo starts off so high. We needed controlled aggression, to meet them head on but at the same time keep our heads.

It took a while for the team to settle and there were a few 'heart in mouth' moments in the early stages but that's understandable. In a game when there is so much at stake, it's hard to make a measured decision in the moment.

O'Neill said during the week that this game is "everything" and he wasn't exaggerating. World Cup places don't come easy, and every player who pulls on the green jersey knows that.

As a footballer, when you want a result so bad it's hard to channel all the nervous energy that builds in the right way. Bad decisions come with too much energy and until my mid-20s I was prone to making some terrible ones when it came to my closing down, but as I gained experience I learned and I got better at making decisions.

A bit like the game last night - the longer it went on the more composed Ireland looked.

Denmark played a clever game, they tried to look like a prettier team than Ireland with a few fake passes just for the sake of it but then they went long.

The reality is they are just playing the same game as Ireland. That suited us; we have been playing it a lot longer so we are better at executing it.

I felt throughout that as long as there was no major nose-bleeds, no big mistakes, we would escape unscathed.

It helped that Darren Randolph was solid. He made some great saves, ones that we would expect him to make but on a night like last night it's always more difficult to pull them off. In the closing stages he really stepped up and led by example.

Harry Arter and no Glenn Whelan was O'Neill's surprise package last night and he really got his money's worth.

It was good to see Shane Long come on with a bit of time on the clock. Daryl Murphy tried his heart out but he was isolated up front and at every turn he was surrounded by three to four defenders. Shane has the pace to do damage.

Denmark seemed like they were playing for a draw; if they had got the win they would be in bonus territory.

They are well aware of Ireland's record in the Aviva and how nerves kick in on that big stage.

The passing game they are capable of playing along with their ability to find space would suit the Aviva.

They played the long game in more ways than one in Copenhagen last night but they are only half-way through the battle, so it's up to Ireland now to go and win the war.

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