Friday 17 November 2017

O'Neill eager for Ireland to rediscover cutting edge

Martin O’Neil speaking at yesterday’s squad announcement. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Martin O’Neil speaking at yesterday’s squad announcement. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Martin O'Neill looked perplexed as he was asked if he had any regrets about not having already given in-form Preston striker Sean Maguire his opportunity in Ireland's stuttering World Cup qualifying campaign.

"No, he's been involved in the squad. What regret would I have," the Ireland boss bit back.

On the outside at least, O'Neill was exuding a sense of calm but, deep down, he will know that his lack of a regular goalscorer is hurting Ireland.

Maguire along with Scott Hogan and Aiden O'Brien is one of three uncapped strikers included in Ireland's extended squad to play Moldova and Wales but whether O'Neill is willing to give any of them a chance remains to be seen.

O'Neill may yet have his hand forced, especially considering Jon Walters will miss both qualifiers while Robbie Brady and James McClean are suspended for the home game against Moldova.

Drought

When you add in the fact that Shane Long is showing little signs of ending his goal drought, you can understand the validity of the question about blooding Maguire sooner in the campaign.

"It is a hard ask to put a lot of pressure on a young lad to come in and score a goal, who feels he has to score a goal in a game," O'Neill reasoned.

"Now we are losing some players. We have lost Jon Walters now for quite a number of weeks. He will probably miss the play-offs himself if we got there.

"And I think Kevin Doyle, who has got a bit of experience, is suffering a bit from concussion but sometimes a little experience helps.

"Asking someone to step in and make that big step up - and it is a big step up."

Hogan, who was on the bench for Aston Villa against Burton last night, hasn't yet found his feet at his new club.

The 25-year-old has finally committed to Ireland but O'Neill still feels as if he has some way to go before forcing his way into the international reckoning.

"In terms of Scott being available, that's something at least if not for the immediate game, certainly for the future," he explained.

"But to me, it might be the case of needs must. We'll see.

"I think it's (struggle for form) probably a mixture of lots of things. First of all, it's a new club. Villa should be a massive club, it was when I was there, and expectation is very high.

"I think he's just trying to settle in. It might be just a change of systems and things like this. I've watched him a number of times, games where he's started and others where he's come on as a sub, and he's still definitely dangerous in the box.

"There's parts of his game, I think he knows, he can improve on. That's the whole idea, going from Brentford - lovely club where he was well thought of and a regular every single week - to a club where expectation is very, very high to get back into the Premier League. And competition for places is greater so that's something he has to put up with."

Long has failed to score in green since Ireland beat Moldova in the reverse fixture in October last year and O'Neill conceded that his confidence had dipped.

"First of all it does absolutely, strikers are there to score goals and if you not scoring goals then definitely confidence wanes, there's no doubt about that.

"For me as a striker, you've got to get into the box and you've got to be able to do a couple of things: you've got to be able to hold the ball up, that's the main issue, you've got to be able to hold it up, look at the Serbian players who were able to do that.

Manoeuvre

"You've got to be able to turn with it, you've got to be able to manoeuvre the ball, try to get a shot off but when it's gone wide you've got to get yourself into a position to get a goal and you've got to get in.

"If you don't go in (the box) there's a fairly decent chance that you won't score, you've got a bit of movement across the box and some players have that and funny I think that, in time, I think that Hogan is, as I said to him myself, I think his hold-up play can improve.

"I think that's important to be able to do that but he can find the net, he can score a goal and young Maguire is doing well so hopefully in time, for their international careers, they can go on and be proper goalscorers for their country."

Irish Independent

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