Wednesday 17 January 2018

McGeady coming of age in Irish shirt

Aiden McGeady sports an outlandishly large tattoo that drapes his left shoulder, rendering the occasional witness in no doubt as to the depths of motivation which reside in the uniquely talented winger.

'Crede quod habes, et habes,' reads the Latin inscription beneath a representation of an angelic figurine. 'Believe that you have it, and you have it.'

From his days on the muddy Glasgow sports fields, where he played both seven-a-sides and 11-a-sides on the same weekends, McGeady has rarely lacked belief that he has 'it'.

The trouble has been that sometimes others have struggled to share that belief. A bit like another inscription on his upper torso, a cross swathed in rosary beads to the inside of his arm, the devotion to his skills has often been predicated too much upon the vagaries of faith.

Too often have McGeady's talents offered a disproportionate return in terms of effectiveness. Too frequently has McGeady neglected to address the more fundamental aspects of the game.

His club form had initially never caused such debate but, as the increasingly pitiful nature of the competition exposed recurrent weaknesses in his game, it became clear that it wasn't what he could do against Falkirk that mattered, rather what he couldn't do against France.

A starkly barren international record of 34 appearances with no goals typified the waywardness and frustration that has attached to him throughout his six-year Irish career.

Now 24, the charge of immaturity can no longer apply to a professional footballer at the highest level and, just as Giovanni Trapattoni's team would receive its most stirring test yet last evening, so too would McGeady.

Emerging from the incestuous, poisonous atmosphere where the Old Firm wage their febrile wars, McGeady has flourished wonderfully in Russia. The irony that would see him attempt to declare an authoritative restatement of his value against some of his new colleagues in the Russian league was not lost in observers.

The first 10 minutes offered plenty of conviction that McGeady could buck the many doubters on the terraces and bar stools, an early clearance emphasising some of the defensive rigour that Trapattoni has insisted upon.

Soon, Ireland's encouraging start exploded into action and McGeady lit the blue touchpaper. Cutting inside Roman Shirokov, he tested the dubious Russian goalkeeper who desperately palmed away.

McGeady followed up and crossed and was arguably hauled down for a penalty. Any good football involved McGeady but, worryingly, as Ireland ceded possession and territory, his involvement in the action diminished exponentially.

A poor pass, a dispossession and a poorly executed inside delivery in quick succession illustrated the shifting of the balance. As the Russian bear grabbed the game in its imposing paws, McGeady returned to the periphery.

The reliance of the long ball bypassed him, notwithstanding Trapattoni's other oft-repeated instruction to his player to "get around" for flick-ons and knock-downs; it is a direct denial of the principles McGeady ought to primarily offer.

His ability to create remained extant despite the one-way flow of midfield traffic; a sharper captain may have taken advantage when put in by a neat slide-rule pass just before the break.


However, reduced to following the aerial flight of the ball as it soared above his head, his frustration at not being allowed the opportunity to run at what seems like defensive accidents waiting to happen, typified by the comedic Vasili Berezutski, grew apace.

This, in turn, was compounded by defensive lapses, which eventually resulted in the Russians pouncing down his flank for their second goal.

One wondered what the second-half instructions were; Ireland started with the sort of speculative long ball which produced little, if any, result in the first act. Would the evidence offered by McGeady's occasional attacking forays have been studied?

Hardly, as Russia dangerously countered when Ireland's long-ball tactic imploded once more. By fate, not design, a long ball created another McGeady opportunity and he once more tested the increasingly erratic Russian netminder.

As Trapattoni lingered listlessly on the touchline, seemingly so paralysed by the nightmare unfolding before his eyes that he seemed impotent to effect any attempt to alter the crumbling landscape, McGeady desperately refused to succumb to the introversion that has so often afflicted him.

On the hour, he eventually drew a yellow card from his full-back marker, Aleksandr Anyukov; his curious reward was to earn a transfer from one wing to another; one suspected that the manager was by then operating on both a wing and a prayer.

The first time he received the ball on the right he was excused of possession by four Russians; at least they were suitably impressed with the potential damage he may cause them if deployed appropriately and supplied effectively.

Bizarrely, after the Russians nearly nabbed a fourth after McGeady was outflanked on his new posting, he traded places with substitute Shane Long seconds later; the air of desperation becoming palpable as Irish supporters already began to take their leave of the stadium.

After early omens that were so portentous for player and country, meaningful substance was sadly absent at the evening's end. Once a Bhoy, last night McGeady showed he is finally becoming a man.

Irish Independent

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