Ireland went down 2-1 to France in the Stade De France tonight with Martin O’Neill’s side failing to cover themselves in glory. However, there were plenty of positive snippets throughout as we bring you five talking points from the games.
France were always going to dominate and with horrendous conditions, it was always going to be a challenge for Ireland. Defeats are always disappointing in what was an opportunity for a number of players to catch the eye, and of course for O’Neill who was hoping to avoid a second successive defeat.
1. Ireland Set Up For Failure From The Offset
Martin O’Neill’s side are in transition following their devastating World Cup play off loss, but the manager has made a disturbing habit of picking extremely disjointed teams in what should be useful friendly matches. Although the back four was a solid pick, O’Neill’s midfield three of Alan Browne, Declan Rice and Callum O’Dowda was unusual.
Though Rice acquitted himself excellently, Browne’s favoured position is either as a number ten or out-and-out holding midfielder, not on the right hand side of a three while O’Dowda is a direct winger. Jon Walters and James McClean are not a creative force going forward although their experience was needed against the French.
Alan Browne looked way out of his depth in midfield. Two poor touches to return a throw in when Ireland had momentum and an interception that nearly ended up in his own net, combined with the Preston player’s lack of urgency to get on the ball reflected badlu on him. He has a lot of improvements to make to his game if he is to cut it at this level.
2. Familiar Patterns Against Quality Opposition Rear Their Head Once Again
Ireland never take friendlies lying down, and this game should have been an opportunity to test themselves against one of the World Cup favourites, fuelling the events of 2009. However, the game panned out as expected – lacklustre and messy with the conditions a big factor for scrappy passages of play.
The theme for Ireland seemed recurring – long balls, sitting deep and very little to offer going forward. Regardless of formations, systems or personnel, Ireland still play with a fear and panic in possession. Ireland were never going to dominate against the French but worse teams on paper can look more comfortable in possession.
What is worrying yet again was Ireland’s attack. Jon Waters and James McClean had no potency going forward, with Shane Long looking lost when in possession, passing into the wilderness instead of hitting the byline in the first half. Overall, France predictably looked far stronger, but Ireland’s approach was disappointing.
3. James McClean Was Well Below Par
James McClean has become something of an Irish legend, but he cannot become immune to criticism given that his last several outings for Ireland have been poor. The West Brom winger gave the ball away almost immediately after kick off, only for France to glance wide, and he conceded a horrendous foul just outside the box which was also wasted.
The Derryman sucked the momentum out of a few attacks by taking one touch to many and with one poor touch too many, McClean’s inconsistencies over the full 90 have gone on for a long time, with his crucial goals justifying his continued inclusion.
With Callum O’Dowda, the returning Robbie Brady and now Callum Robinson breathing down his neck, O’Neill could see McClean’s value increase as an explosive impact sub if his wastefulness displays continue. We still love you though, James!
4. Declan Rice & Derrick Williams Put Their Hands Up
Two of the standout names on the team sheet were Declan Rice and Derrick Williams. Rice showed his quality and composure on the ball, being selected in a more advanced holding midfield role, the same he is deployed in for the Irish under 21’s.
Damien Duff drew comparisons between the West Ham man and Paul McGrath just before kick off, and his neatness on the ball combined with a willingness to get stuck in showed that he can end up being Ireland’s central player for the next decade if he continues to work hard.
Williams, on the other hand, was assured in defence and although possibly the inferior player to the experienced Greg Cunningham, showed that Stephen Ward’s untouchable status at left back could be a thing of the past. He surged forward well and cut out some French fluidity in what was an impressive debut for the Waterford man.
5. Martin O’Neill Shows Worth Of League of Ireland With Burke Debut
Irish managers of the past have been reluctant to test out the domestic game’s brightest talents, with the likes of Jason Byrne and Glen Crowe the most recent examples of players to receive several call-ups to Irish sides without too many caps to mention.
Graham Burke is an undoubted talent and a prime example of the many quality youngsters who have successfully resurrected their careers in Ireland after Premier League struggles. He had a silent impact on the game, but didn’t look out of place, and could pave the way for players like Trever Clake, Kieran Sadlier, Thomas Byrne or Daniel Cleary to warrant selection and indeed game time under O’Neill.
Bohemians goalkeeper Shane Supple also featured on the bench, nearly a decade after initially retiring from the game.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena