A Nation Holds Its Breath
Permutations. Permutations. Permutations. That’s the buzzword of the week as the football world diverted its attention to the remaining fixtures in the World Cup qualifying campaign. Ireland have ultimately let their once commanding position in Group D slip badly in the second half of the campaign. After a strong start, Ireland looked in good shape to top the group or at the very least a strong second place finish with main rivals Serbia and Austria still to visit the Aviva. The 0-0 stalemate back in March with Wales in Dublin was a lot more than just two points dropped. Our talisman and driving force Seamus Coleman was subject to a horror tackle from Neil Taylor that left the Irishman with a double leg break. It’s no coincidence that Ireland’s results and performances have been poor since the loss of Coleman. Five points from a possible twelve is the reason we go into tomorrow’s showdown in Cardiff with our destiny out of our control. A win in Cardiff doesn’t guarantee anything. We’re dependant on results elsewhere going our way. A position we really shouldn’t be in after a strong first half of the campaign.
There was some other news, aside from permutations, this past week. On the eve of the game with Moldova, it was revealed that Martin O’Neill had signed a new two-year contract to stay on as Ireland manager. While the news was met with mixed reaction, we could all agree that the timing of the announcement was very strange. Ultimately, O’Neill has faced similar criticism to that of some of his predecessors. Negative tactics, questionable team selections etc. When you break it down, O’Neill probably does warrant the new contract given he guided us to a major tournament and we were competitive in said tournament. To be offered the new contract before the qualifying campaign’s completion and the outcome still unknown suggests the FAI don’t see anyone more suited for job at this time. We might not play the most attractive brand of football but we’ve been competitive during O’Neill’s tenure. However, is being competitive enough? Competitive can take on a whole host of different interpretations, of course.
Friday’s game with Moldova was another night to forget for our first choice number nine, Shane Long. Long has always been a player that works tirelessly but only produces glimpses of quality on occasions. Hard work and missed chances pretty much sums it up. The Tipperary man’s record for club and country has been appalling over the last year, registering just one goal in forty-two appearances. The simple fact is we need goals to win in Cardiff and many believe Shane Long is not worthy of his starting place for the big game. No question, Wales certainly have all the momentum. Gareth Bale is, of course, a huge loss but as we saw in Tblisi on Friday night this Welsh side is more than capable of delivering without their talisman. With Robbie Brady and James McClean returning from suspension, O’Neill has a number of big decisions to make for his starting eleven. My fear is that Hoolahan and O’Dowda will lose their starting spots to Brady and McClean. Personally, I’d put Brady in at left-back and leave the over-zealous McClean on the bench. A good option to bring on with twenty minutes to go if needed. O’Dowda’s and Hoolahan’s composure are paramount if Ireland are to get all three points. Wes Hoolahan has been instrumental in three of Martin O’Neill’s best nights as Ireland manager; the performance and assist for Brady’s winner against Italy in the Euros, the MOTM performance in the win over Germany, and the performance and assist for McClean’s winner in Vienna. Let’s hope Hoolahan is given the opportunity to deliver another memorable night in Cardiff tomorrow. Three points and a prayer for the Boys In Green. COYBIG!
Here’s what I’d like to see from the start tomorrow night: