With confirmation coming yesterday that forward and all-round national treasure Jonathan Walters will miss Ireland’s Euro 2016 game against Belgium today, Martin O’Neill has some big decisions to make.
While the absence of the 32 year old is a big loss to Ireland, particularly given the way he has been performing over the past year to 18 months, it allows someone else to come in and try to impress the manager enough to keep a starting role in next Wednesday’s final game against Italy.
So does O’Neill simply replace Walters with another right sided midfielder, or does he alter his tactics completely?
The obvious alternative, the one that would cause the least disruption in the team, is Aiden McGeady. One of the few out-and-out wide players in the squad, the Everton winger offers something different to the team in what can become a very narrow and congested midfield.
Having began the qualification campaign as a starter but enduring something of a fall from grace, McGeady will nonethless hoping that O’Neill saw something in his brief cameo against Sweden last Monday to throw him in this afternoon.
Despite replacing Walters on the hour mark at the Stade de France on Monday, McClean is another whose stock has fallen having initially been virtually secure in his place in this regime.
Combative and lively, the West Brom midfielder is often criticised for his lack of end product. That said, he has to be considered as a viable replacement for Walters in today’s team. Naturally a left-sided player, the choice for O’Neill would be whether to put him on the right or or move Hendrick there to accommodate him should he opt for the former Derry City winger.
Moving Coleman into midfield would enter into slightly drastic territory, but depending on how defensive O’Neill wants to play this, it may come into consideration. Assisted Wes Hoolahan’s opener against Sweden and does have some attacking prowess, but ultimately unlikely to be considered above actual midfielders.
Moving Coleman into midfield would almost certainly bring Derby’s Cyrus Christie into the starting eleven at right back.
The opposite end of the conservatism spectrum, starting Keane in a front two with Shane Long would certainly represent a willingness to attack the Belgians.
However, Keane has not been a starter for Ireland for some time now, with O’Neill even preferring misfiring striker Daryl Murphy ahead of the 35 year old at times, and it is difficult to see that changing now – especially in a game of such high importance.