Monday 23 April 2018

Daniel McDonnell: Six ways to smooth Ireland's path to the World Cup in Russia

The Premier League kicking off today with Martin O'Neill having a very definite wish list

'There is no need to panic about Brady (pictured) and Hendrick’s inability to secure a move before the start of the Premier League kick-off.' Picture Credit: Stephen Pond/Getty Images
'There is no need to panic about Brady (pictured) and Hendrick’s inability to secure a move before the start of the Premier League kick-off.' Picture Credit: Stephen Pond/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The start of the new Premier League season provides a timely reminder that the beginning of Ireland's World Cup adventure is just around the corner.

Despite a satisfactory showing at the Euros, the simple fact remains that Martin O'Neill is reliant on a small group of top-flight players as he looks to make a decent stab of his second campaign in charge.

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Here are the storylines that would give the Irish boss a boost if they were to play out over the forthcoming campaign:

1. Coleman delivers Everton ultimatum

Roy Keane said during the European Championships that Ireland's captain elect could play for any of the big teams with his eyes shut. It would be nice if that theory was tested before it's too late.

Of course, there is a chance that Everton could take off under Ronald Koeman with new investment and push for a European place in an open year. But if this season develops into another mid-table affair then the 27-year-old needs to be selfish and look after number one.

He struggled last year in a defence that leaked goals although that didn't prevent John Stones from securing a move to Manchester City. Pep Guardiola's team paid money for potential, whereas Coleman is a known quantity. That said, when he is on song, the Killybegs lad is up there with the best players in his position. His colleague Leighton Baines missed the boat when his stock was high; Coleman should avoid that mistake.

2. Long hits double figures again

Long turns 30 in January, despite having a youthful appearance that gives the impression that there's more to come. The Tipp attacker did reach maturity last term by hitting double figures in the top flight for the first time, and repeating that feat this time around would confirm that he has shed the tag of being streaky and become a reliable force in this company.

Koeman was good for him and the change in dug-out is far from ideal after he looked to have found contentment. His role in Claude Puel's early selections will be interesting as Long thrived when given responsibility through the middle.

He did sign a new four-year contract in the summer but doors might still open if he can raise the bar again.

3. McCarthy flourishes under new manager

The loss of Koeman was bad for Long, yet it will be fascinating to see if it has any impact on McCarthy. The midfielder came in for some savage criticism from the usual sources during the Euros and there was even the ludicrous assertion that his displays had contributed to Roberto Martinez's exit from Everton.

Martinez viewed McCarthy as irreplaceable and bemoaned the lack of a natural replacement for the Glaswegian in his squad; an injury-interrupted campaign was bad for player and club.

Martinez was a huge influence on the 25-year-old and there is a sense that he might benefit from another voice in his ear.

The main criticism of the Glaswegian is that he became too cautious in a settled defensive role in Martinez's system, with others called upon for the creative responsibility. An alteration in style could result in his energy being used in a more positive fashion.

4. Brady and Hendrick land top-flight moves

There is no need to panic about Brady and Hendrick's inability to secure a move before the start of the Premier League kick-off.

They still have time; McCarthy started the Championship season with Wigan in 2013 before getting his move just before the window closed and it wouldn't be a huge shock if the same happened to the former St Kevin's Boys team-mates.

Brinkmanship is a common feature of the transfer saga and waiting until the last possible moment opens up the possibility of a desperate club giving in and paying the asking price. Or the flip side of the equation is a side that wanted to cash in all along lowering their demands when they risk ending up with nothing.

In this case, Derby and Norwich will end up with excellent players for a likely promotion push, so you suspect that suitors will have to come up with the finances.

It feels that Brady and Hendrick have to move now to capitalise on the good vibes of the Euros before slipping into the Championship grind.

Brady ought to secure a move to a decent-sized club but Hendrick should heed the lesson of his pal, who has endured back-to-back relegations; Burnley and Sunderland are leading the chase and the ideal-world scenario would be finding a club that is unlikely tow be back in the second tier 12 months from now.

5. City keep tabs on Byrne progress

Jack Byrne will definitely spend the season in the Championship, but he is employed by a Premier League club and that's where his future should lie.

The Manchester City operation is such a monster that they have loan players scattered across a variety of destinations so there's a danger of using the green-tinted spectacles when assessing the possible impact of his Blackburn performances on his future with his parent club.

They have an abundance of promising young talents to choose from so Pep Guardiola will have plenty of files on his desk.

Still, City kept a close eye on Byrne when he was at Holland last year and the hope is that his profile will grow if he shines in the English second tier.

Byrne has impressed in his first two outings and his manager Owen Coyle has a good reputation in this department, having nurtured Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge on loan spells early in their education.

6. Arter avoids injury

France allowed Brady and Hendrick to play their way into the public's affections with their positive midfield performances. Arter could have done the same were it not for the misfortune that prevented him from featuring in the finals.

The way the tournament panned out, it's clear that the Bournemouth midfielder could have made a serious contribution to proceedings.

O'Neill never ended up requiring the services of David Meyler, a player who lacks Arter's flair and invention, and the alternative option from the bench would have strengthened his options.

Arter's maiden Premier League campaign was stop-start due to injury woe and the 26-year-old deserves a clear run to show what he is capable of doing.

That will have a knock-on effect on his Irish situation.

Irish Independent

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