With another week of internationals over, attention now turns to Ireland’s tie with Austria in June.
There may be some disappointment given the fact that Ireland failed to secure a victory during the week but there will be some positives to take.
Here we examine seven of the talking points from the two games as the international scene breaks for just over two months.
7. James McClean Becoming Invaluable To The Irish Cause
In what has been a highly emotional couple of weeks for the Derry man, McClean pulled off one of the performances of his life against Wales, battling for every single ball and even putting in a crunching tackle on Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale.
The former Derry City man is not the most technically gifted player and at times frustrates on the ball but some aspects of his game are essential to how Ireland play. The aggression of his tackles and ability to track back were some of the reasons Ireland stopped Wales last Friday.
The excellent timing of McClean’s tackles can be underestimated at times not to mention the tenacity he shows to get back and help his defenders out. McClean also has a fantastic delivery from range and put in some lovely crosses in both games against Wales and Iceland. Once an impact sub used to great effect, McClean is now one of the first names on the team sheet.
6. Time For Cyrus Christie To Step Up
Derby man Cyrus Christie is likely to take the place of injured captain Seamus Coleman for the rest of the campaign. Statistically one of the best full-backs in the Championship, Christie has created the most chances for a defender in the league despite missing over three months through injury, with 1.5 chances per game.
He looked comfortable against Wales and ran at the Welsh full-backs when he came on. He has experienced a number of competitive internationals to date and failed to disappoint. Christie was not phased when he took on the German’s in Ireland’s 1-0 victory in the Aviva nearly two years ago and the 24-year-old will need to raise his game should he be called upon by Martin O’Neill. David Meyler has also played and impressed at right-back but Christie is the natural replacement.
5. Ireland Pick Up Result Despite Huge Injury List
With Ireland missing five starters from the victory against Austria in November, a positive result against a full strength Wales looked like a tall order. However, Martin O’Neill assembled a team of ten Premier League players with Richard Keogh the only non top flight starter. The side kept Bale at bay and will be coming away feeling as though they could have snatched it against the ten men.
However, it shows that for the first time in a while, Ireland possess real depth and players capable of stepping up when called upon. The side Ireland fielded against Iceland was arguably a third string team but players like Eunan O’Kane, Jonny Hayes and Daryl Horgan showed the quality that is on the fringes should they be called upon. Considering the volume of injuries last week, Ireland still look in good nick when resources are stretched.
4. Attacking Threat Worrying At Times
Although two very different ties, Ireland looked poor going forward against Wales and Iceland and bar a big James McClean chance against the Welsh, Ireland hardly threatened over the two games. Despite their qualities, there can be a real lack of composure by the likes of Jeff Hendrick and Glenn Whelan on the ball with rushed inaccurate passing often stemming any attacking flow.
Harry Arter has the ability to make things happen from deep and Eunan O’Kane showed similar qualities against Iceland. Wes Hoolahan was missed with Ireland looking extremely bare in the final third of both games. Although crosses were plentiful in both games, there was very little on the end of them meaning that Ireland could benefit more from playing through the middle. Robbie Brady showed his creative qualities against Iceland and he needs to be utilised further up the pitch with Hoolahan against the Austrians.
3. Mixed Day For Debutantes Against Iceland
Martin O’Neill pleased the crowd by handing debuts to several players as well as handing a first start to Jonny Hayes and recall to Stephen Gleeson. Centre-back John Egan had a mixed day. The Cork man looked uncomfortable on the ball but can be forgiven with this being his first cap.
However, he showed a towering presence in the air and despite conceding the free resulting in Iceland’s goal, he can be satisfied overall. Conor Hourihane threaded some nice passes together but hardly demanded the ball and wasted some possession cheaply, another player who will certainly come good.
Former Dundalk duo Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan impressed off the bench with Boyle calm and composed and Horgan fearless as he tried to force an equaliser. Although already capped, Hayes caught the eye and O’Kane was extremely impressive, demanding the ball and playing on the front foot.
2. Is Kevin Doyle Still An Option For Ireland?
There is no doubting Doyle’s undisputed service in the green jersey with 14 goals heralded in an eleven-year international career. However, it may be time to move on from the Wexford man and look to the likes of Adam Rooney, David McGoldrick, Joe Mason and even Cillian Sheridan.
Doyle failed to attack the dozens of crosses played into him on Tuesday night apart from one glancing header that sailed well off target. Although a friendly match, Doyle did very little to justify O’Neill’s continued selection of the USA-based striker. He has been a fantastic servant to Ireland but last night could have been used to have a look at other options such as Mason or Sheridan, who were available for selection.
1. The Feeling Looking To June
The major talking point of Ireland’s ties have been the injury to Seamus Coleman. The Everton man is irreplaceable but this is a side that has always stepped up when required and will only be spurred on by what has happened to their captain.
James McClean seems to be improving with every game and is a player the Austrians will fear come June. His leadership and quality of tackling will continue to be key for Ireland. Although many will be disappointed with the Welsh result, it should be appreciated that this Irish side suffered a huge loss of players in the build-up to the game, with Chris Coleman’s team at full strength.
Therefore last week’s 0-0 draw could be a huge result come the end of the campaign. The main negative will be Ireland’s abilities in the final third but with Hoolahan, Robbie Brady and Harry Arter all expected to be back in the lineup against Marcel Koller’s side, a greater threat will no doubt be evident as Ireland look to secure an all important victory.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena