Republic Of Ireland right-back Cyrus Christie has defended his credibility as a defender after coming under fire for a sub-par performance against Belarus in Turner’s Cross last week.
The Derby County right-back was repeatedly beaten down Ireland’s right-hand side during the 2-1 defeat in Cork and was at fault during Alyaksandr Valadzko’s stunning second goal for the Belarusians.
The 23-year-old has deputised behind Seamus Coleman for the majority of Ireland’s qualifying campaign but played particularly well when given the opportunity against both Gibraltar and Germany.
The Coventry native said that he still has a long way to go in terms of his development as a defender but takes solace in the fact that he was part of one of the best defences in Derby County history last season.
“I haven’t been playing right-back for that long,” Christie told reporters in Dublin after Ireland’s penultimate training session before the squad departs for France on Wednesday.
“Right-wing is where I did start my career. I am (more) comfortable further up the pitch than defending. But when you’re that attacking, everyone seems to pick up on the defensive faults more than anything because it seems to shine through that you’re not defensively capable.
“But this season I haven’t been done defensively. Everyone wants to pick up on one little aspect of my defensive (game), but this season, I’ve been reasonably solid.
“I think at Derby it’s the best they’ve done [defensively] since going back to the early eighties. To be part of a team like that, you have to be able to defend so for me in the Belarus game I was isolated in a lot of two-v-ones.
“We were playing a different kind of shape. I was doing a lot of work up and down (the flanks). For the second goal, I probably could have done better. I’ll hold my hands up to that. But Martin O’Neill was complimentary to me. He came over to me after the game and said I’d done well.”
Christie said during the press conference that O’Neill gives him a lot of honest feedback on his performances and points out the areas of his game that he can improve.
The former Coventry City player went on to say it’s been a big learning process for him and that he tries to pick up as much as possible from the man he’s currently trying to displace, Seamus Coleman.
“It’s up there with one of the toughest tasks,” Christie replied when asked how he approaches the task of trying to displace Coleman from the starting XI.
“He’s a fantastic player and he’s being touted around for a big price tag, but for me it’s about enjoying the experience and playing and learning.
“Seamus is always talking to me about I can improve on my game and what I do well and for me that’s just fantastic in itself.”
But it’s not just others telling Christie what he can do better, he is fully aware of his own weaknesses and flaws. He admits he’s not the greatest defender and knows he has a lot to improve on; however, he’s also self-aware and, more importantly, self-confident.
— Derby County (@dcfcofficial) June 5, 2016
Christie is hopeful that in a couple of years he could well be a ‘natural’ at right-back. In order to reach that level though, he must improve on his consistency and concentration as a defender in the meantime and keep learning when it can.
“That’s always going to be a question mark over my head, whether I can defend or not?” Christie added.
“For me, I’m just taking it in my stride and learning everyday and looking to improve. When I have come here, Martin O’Neill has picked up on certain aspects of my game that I can do better and we work on that.
“He’s showed me on the video clip that it is just slight adjustments and it’s more about the concentration aspect of getting into the right position.
“It doesn’t really come natural to me because it’s not the position I’ve started in but I am learning all the time. You never know what could happen in a couple of years. I could have it bang on and look like a natural but to come away and work with Martin O’Neill, Roy Keane and Steve Guppy as well, they always do pick up on things and tell you what to improve on. But they’re also great at complimenting you as well.
“Like I said, I do need to improve. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take hard work and dedication. No player’s perfect, you just have to work on something and that’s what I have to do to make myself better and try to get to the top level.”
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena