With Ireland needing a draw at the very least to keep hopes of qualification alive, there is much debate surrounding what team Martin O’Neill will select for Sunday night.
Here, Brian Barry offers the XI he would start with to beat Poland.
Goalkeeper: Kieren Westwood
In what has traditionally been an easy call for Ireland managers, O’Neill finds himself with a major headache to select his shot-stopper. Should he stick with David Forde, who, despite poor club form, has never let his country down?
Or should he opt for the experience of Shay Given, who has been instrumental in Aston Villa’s run to the semi-final of the FA Cup.
This writer would opt for Kieran Westwood. The Sheffield Wednesday keeper has been on top, even reportedly garnering interest from Liverpool in January. Given has not been getting sufficient game-time, and if O’Neill wants to send the right message to his players, he will reward fine form with a starting berth.
Right-Back: Séamus Coleman
The Donegal native has not enjoyed his finest season with a struggling Everton side, but has found the net recently, and shown why he is regarded as one of the league’s finest full-backs. This is a no-brainer for O’Neill. Coleman must start, and may cause the Polish problems going forward.
Centre-Back: John O’Shea
The hero from Gelsenkirchen has been poor for Sunderland of late, as the Black Cats plummet down the Premier League table. But he is an experienced defender, and will not be fazed by the occasion. His leadership ensures that he ought to start, and will captain the side if Robbie Keane is not selected up front.
Centre-Back: Marc Wilson
There is a temptation to pull the Stoke City player to left-back, to cover for the injured Stephen Ward. This is plausible, and there would be ample cover in the centre, in the form of Richard Keogh or Ciaran Clark. However, circumstances dictate that Ireland must set up offensively, and Wilson is a smart option to partner O’Shea in the centre of defence.
Left-Back: James McClean
In Ward’s absence, there is much debate as to whom will start at left-back. Granted McClean is a romantic option, but is not without experience in the position, having played there at Sunderland.
O’Neill is likely to go with Cyprus Christie or David Meyler, or even Robbie Brady, who played there during the friendly game against USA. Ireland must play with abandon, and the Brady/McClean type player is a must here to attack down the flanks. Perhaps McClean offers more defensively, so he gets the nod.
Left-Wing: Aiden McGeady
McGeady, when on form, is almost un-markable. He came in for some special treatment from the home crowd in Glasgow, and this undoubtedly affected his performance. But he can hurt this Polish defence, and if he gets things right, well…
Centre-Midfield: James McCarthy
Along with his club-mate Coleman, McCarthy is amongst the first names on the team-sheet. In the ill-fated trip to Celtic Park, Ireland lacked somebody who could hold onto the ball, and move it about. The Boys in Green played on the back foot for 90 minutes. McCarthy is the man who can make this Irish side click.
Centre-Midfield: Stephen Quinn
Injury to Darron Gibson denies the former Manchester United player a shot at returning to the fold. Again, this is a position that one can easily predict O’Neill’s rationale. Glenn Whelan will more than likely start, but there are others available who offer more going forward.
Stephen Quinn has been impressive, of late, for Hull City and has always risen to the challenge in a green shirt. He will put in a defensive shift too.
Right-Wing: Robbie Brady
After being cleared fit for the Poland game, the Hull City flyer has been touted as a left-back replacement. Yet Brady has shown time and again under O’Neill that he will give his all for Ireland. The 23-year-old ahead of Coleman would constitute a real threat down the right flank. Right wing is his best position, and can create something out of nothing.
Centre-Forward: Robbie Keane
Hoolahan or Keane. Keane or Hoolahan. This is simply a massive call. Hoolahan offers a lot of creativity in attack, but Robbie Keane is Robbie Keane.
65 goals and counting speaks for itself. He has had his doubters, this writer included. We will only appreciate Robbie Keane when he is gone. A man to deliver big goals on the big stage, this is an ideal time to shine for the LA Galaxy star, and if anyone can do it, it’s Keano.
Striker: Shane Long
Long is a form player. He will put a run of games back-to-back, before figuratively disappearing for months on end. Luckily for Ireland, Long is performing well at present, and has won his way back onto the Southampton starting XI.
He took an opportunistic goal against Burnley last week, and his confidence will be high as a result. Long will run all day, and this will tire a slow Polish defence.
Who would you start? Let us know by commenting below or via Twitter/Facebook.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena
Featured image By Michael Kranewitter (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-at (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/at/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons