Brian Barry poses 5 questions facing Martin O’Neill ahead of Ireland’s opener in Group D.
Who will play in goals?
O’Neill spent his summer pondering over who to play between the sticks. It was David Forde who was ahead of Keiren Westwood by a nose. The Galway native has never let O’Neill down since the Derryman took over last November. However, Shay Given has now re-entered the fray, having emerged from international retirement. Despite a lack of first-team football for the Donegal keeper, Roy Keane seems satisfied with what he has seen on the Aston Villa training ground. Given had little to do in the Oman tie, and was replaced by Rob Elliott. Given looked a shadow of his former glories at Euro 2012, and O’Neill must be sure that he is up to the task if he is to be selected against Georgia.
Is Shane Long the man to lead the line?
No question about it, Robbie Keane is Ireland’s proven main man. Write him off at your peril, the Tallaght man has produced again and again. However, the clock is ticking on his career, and soon there will be a massive void to be filled. So who is the man for the job? Despite some impressive performances, Shane Long has largely flattered to deceive on the big stage. With Ireland’s record goalscorer waning, it is time for Long to step up to the plate. Kevin Doyle has returned to the Premier League, and got on the scoresheet against Oman. The Tipperary man’s place on the team may no longer be a certainty.
Can we boss weaker teams away?
Georgia is simply a game we have to win, with aspirations of qualification. But a trip to Tbilisi is by no means a straightforward task. Ireland have often struggled in such games. In the 2010 qualification campaign, we were awarded a phantom penalty to squeeze by the Georgians 2-1 at home. But even against the minnows, it is often a case that they enjoy the lions share of possession. Under O’Neill, Ireland must learn to pin inferior teams back, and dictate the play when in possession, pressing higher up the pitch.
Can McGeady finally deliver?
Aiden McGeady is another who has not lived up to his potential in his Ireland career. However, a rise in form since moving to Everton is a cause for optimism amongst the green army. At 28, this is the campaign where the Scottish born winger must deliver. He is by no means a shoe-in to start, as Ireland are embarrassed with riches on the wing. Alex Pilkington, James McClean, and Robbie Brady all merit a starting berth. Add Jack Grealish to the mix and it is a competitive area. McGeady has been rightly criticised for lack of end product, but this is down to frustration as his ability is so evident.
Can Ireland win back the crowd?
Ireland will always be well supported on away trips. With 10,000 set for Glasgow, the away support is showing no signs of diminishing. However, home games have been struggling to sell out, and even when the Aviva is packed out, there was a lack of passion during the Trapattoni era. Teams no longer fear coming to Dublin. O’Neill must mastermind the restoration of Lansdowne Road as a fortress, by capturing the imagination of the country with the side’s football. Should Ireland secure a few wins early in this group, we will hear the Lansdowne roar once again.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.