Monday 20 November 2017

Stephen Hunt: There were skirmishes aplenty in Aviva showdown, but it was to be expected in a crucial tie

Glenn Whelan leaves Wales' Joe Allen on the flat of his back as the club-mates clash Photo: Reuters
Glenn Whelan leaves Wales' Joe Allen on the flat of his back as the club-mates clash Photo: Reuters
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

If any player is going to come back stronger from a serious leg break, Seamus Coleman is your man. There are not many more determined and strong-willed young lads in the game.

He's the son you'd want to have and his parents should be very proud of him and how they have reared him. He has shown to many young Irish lads that if you work hard and commit totally to being a professional footballer, you can get your rewards.

When he first came into the squad, he was quiet and polite - a nice boy - but you could sense there was a steely determination about him, even then. He wanted to improve and learn and has just gone from strength to strength since he was unfairly left out of the Euro 2012 finals squad.

He has proved you have to put that effort in. I have been away for days and weeks with him and I was constantly amazed at the way he goes about his job. It is no accident that he was chosen by Martin O'Neill as the Ireland captain, because he really does lead by example. He's not a ranter and raver, he gets respect for his demeanour and the way he conducts himself and plays.

I think that's why he raised his head when he was on the stretcher, in absolute agony and being led off the pitch. A lot of players would have laid back, hands over their eyes, concerned only with the pain and the state they're in. Seamus wanted to send a little message out to his team, and the country, that he was going to be OK. And I think he will be.

I want to single out Shane Long too. Many players would have turned and stayed away from a fallen comrade, but Shane got on his hands and knees and cuddled Seamus, because he knew it was a bad one. I think that says a lot about him, and about the togetherness of this squad, which should not be overlooked. It was really nice to see.

I want to put myself in the minds of the two men at the centre of that horrible incident, and when you take away the emotion and the edge to such an important World Cup qualifying match, the best conclusion is that it really is one of those things that can happen.

Roy Keane, quite rightly, put it out there early in the week that there were going to be juicy tackles, that Gareth Bale would be hit - hard but fairly - and the tackles and the challenges would be flying in. He was right to say it because it was always going to happen.

If I am Ashley Williams, the Wales captain, standing in the pre-match huddle, remembering those words from a man of Roy Keane's stature and position, of course I will tell my team-mates 'this is going to be a war', and that they have to be 100 per cent committed to every tackle. No doubt he singled out Bale too, and told him to look after himself. It was there for the world to hear that we were going to target him.

And Bale can look after himself, don't worry about that. The high tackle on John O'Shea was a naughty one, and he is usually much quicker to react to the ball in the penalty box, but Bale was in a battle, looking after himself.

Prior to that devastating tackle on Coleman from Neil Taylor, there were intriguing little battles emerging across the pitch which were great to watch.

Under normal circumstances, Williams might have ignored Long's late one on him, but he was wound up and perhaps conscious of the pre-match words from the Ireland camp.

Shane runs straight and with pace and power when he closes down and he was a fraction late, but it wasn't that bad. I watched the immediate aftermath of the challenge and Williams was getting on my nerves with the manner of his complaining, and Shane didn't react at first.

I don't really know what the Wales captain was thinking because the last thing I would want to do is wind Long up. He will just run at you even faster and harder.

Then there was the little skirmish between the two Stoke City boys, Glenn Whelan and Joe Allen. They were battling like two players who were competing for the same place on Saturday, and telling their club manager, 'I'm starting'.

Glenn is tough and he gives nothing away as he strives to win, not even in five-a-sides in training, and he is a very serious boy. This is a man who would argue with Giovanni Trapattoni if he felt a decision was not right, so it is no surprise that he would put personal feelings or friendships to one side to win for his country.

Three or four times in the first-half, Allen had left a little mark with the Ireland players and I think Glenn decided he'd had enough. His challenge was more of a block and a barge than a deliberate elbow but it was not nasty - just firm.

I imagine the pair of them will have a laugh about it when they get back to Stoke, but Glenn won't be the first to crack a smile, that's for sure.

And that's how I view Taylor's tackle on Coleman. He will be devastated, especially after suffering a serious break of his own, and when it comes, I am sure Seamus will accept his apology.

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