Over the weekend Preston, a club with a substantial Irish contingent, recorded a 4-2 victory over Brentford. Daryl Horgan scored his first goal for the Lilywhites since joining from Dundalk, but it was Aiden McGeady who grabbed all the headlines.
McGeady’s place was said to be under threat by the Galwegian following his Europa League heroics. Horgan is a tremendous talent with calls for his inclusion against Wales next month growing. However, his arrival has had yet another positive impact on the Irish team, it seems to have driven on McGeady.
The Scotland-born winger scored two goals of real quality against what was ultimately a poor Brentford side, both created out of very little and both came from long range.
However, the quality McGeady has shown for Preston is not a new phenomenon. In and out of the team since joining on loan from Everton, the 30-year-old has enjoyed a more prolonged playing spell under Simon Grayson since before Christmas. His performance against Arsenal in the FA Cup showcased the quality he still possesses but anyone who in the unlikely occasion watches Preston regularly would admit that this technical ability and trickery was not a one off.
He has six assists this season, which is actually two more than Irish star Robbie Brady managed in the Championship before his move to Burnley.
McGeady is no doubt a talented player but is constantly criticised by Irish fans; sometimes very unfairly so. The reality is that since his move to Everton in 2014 from Spartak Moscow, McGeady has not had a consistent run of games.
The Glasgow native joined Everton following months off after the climax of the Russian season, which seemed to set him up for failure. Despite a strong start to the 2014/15 campaign with the Toffees, Roberto Martinez quickly decided McGeady wasn’t his man and he has gone on to make only 32 appearances at Goodison Park.
The wise decision was made to join Sheffield Wednesday on loan last year but again a lack of game time was evident as he struggled in the Owls’ promotion chase. It was difficult for him to gain any momentum from his Spartak exit and even after moving to Deepdale on loan last summer this deprivation of games seemed to be extend even further. Although it took time, McGeady is finally establishing himself as a regular under Simon Grayson and looks to be coming up with the goods.
With Ireland’s crunch tie at home to Wales fast approaching, Martin O’Neill will be playing with ideas around how his side are to extend their lead at the top of group D. At the start of the campaign it seemed unlikely McGeady would feature regularly and has had to settle for appearances off the bench. However, with his form rapidly escalating leading up to the game, he could be a difficult option to ignore.
The criticisms of McGeady have often been justified, but sometimes harsh. He is a player that can be guilty of giving the ball away cheaply, failing to hit his man with a cross and overcooking through balls. Although arguably one of Ireland’s most skilful players and most capable of scoring from anywhere, he has only heralded a disappointing five goals in a 13-year international career. Having amassed 86 caps, many Ireland fans view him as one of the ‘what ifs’ of Irish football having burst onto the scene as a teenager with Celtic.
However, Irish fans can have very selective memories when it comes to the winger. Ireland’s Euro 2016 would have been very unlikely if McGeady did not score two crucial goals in Tbilisi in 2014. His winner against Georgia was possibly one of the most technically brilliant goals ever scored by an Irish player, but unfortunately coincided with the time he was outcast by Everton.
Although Robbie Brady scored the winner against Italy in Lille, many don’t remember, nor acknowledge, the simple but critical fact that it was McGeady who seconds before showed the initiative to put his foot on the ball and drive forward to offload to Wes Hoolahan when others would have given the pass earlier or lumped it forward.
The common denominators with these two moments were that they came out of very little and required McGeady’s technical ability. In fact over the years the former Everton man has been involved in many of Ireland’s goals, from producing simple things like beating a player or drawing out defences with his awkward runs. Very few players have his ability yet possibly face less criticism as less is expected of them. The expectation has always been high for McGeady, making it far easier for him to disappoint.
A number of Irish players have been guilty of giving away possession cheaply in this qualifying campaign. Many feel that these players have their limitations and it seems to be accepted. Unfortunately negativity still exists when it comes to the 30-year-old as fans long to see him beat several players before landing a cross onto the head of the striker.
At times, James McClean can be equally as frustrating as McGeady and can give the ball away a lot more cheaply. Despite this, he is rarely criticised and with very good reason. His presence on the pitch as well as his physicality and robustness is difficult to ignore compensating for what can be lacking elsewhere. These attributes have made McClean crucial to Ireland’s World Cup campaign so far, not to mention his goalscoring ability. Some may feel that if McGeady showed a bit more character and an extra dimension on the pitch, like McClean does for Ireland, he would be an automatic pick.
However, the two have something in common – they can pop up at the right time, as McClean showed against Austria and McGeady showed against Georgia in 2014. With the Welsh tie expected to be a tight affair, the game could come down to one moment of magic.
Wales have a man very capable of that and Ireland must match this. With McGeady on song and O’Neill capable of getting the best out of him, a start or even game time against Wales could give Ireland a greater opportunity to grab something out of nothing.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena