Having scored his first international goal in the end-of-season tour, James McClean joked that Costa Rica and Italy’s displays in Brazil put Ireland’s performances against the same teams in more positive perspective. But the rout at the hands of Portugal, themselves humiliated by Ireland’s Euro opponents Germany, will give Martin O’Neill cause for concern. Kyle Cotter looks at ten talking points.
Many fans deemed the squad picked for these friendly games as ‘disappointing’, as it contained no positive surprises. It did include the pantomime villains, Conor Sammon and Paul Green. When we saw Trapattoni leave and Martin O’Neill come in, some thought that would be the end of Sammon and Green’s international careers but this hasn’t been the case. The names off Eunan O’Kane, Sean Murray and Jack Grealish have been linked with the senior squad for quite some time now and there was a lot of expectancy that this would be their first call-up. Not to be all negative about the selection, it saw Shane Duffy make his senior international debut as he put in a solid defensive shift against a very attack-minded Costa Rica side.
We saw brilliant team displays against Turkey and Italy but we are still struggling for goals. Robbie Keane linked up with the squad in the USA and missed a penalty in the game in Philadelphia against Costa Rica, perhaps a worrying sign for O’Neill. Then as we headed into the Portugal game we looked to John Walters to provide something extra up top but it failed to materialise. The lack of goals is becoming a major concern. Although we now have an abundance of talent in midfield, we can’t be relying on them for scores.
The FAI released their new kit on the morning of the friendly against Turkey. It got a mixed reaction from fans and media alike. The surprised ‘model’ David Meyler seemed to like it though with some people suggesting the reason was its similarity to previous Cork City jerseys, David’s home town club.
The only crowd that can be looked at and judged is the one for the game against Turkey because of the travel difficulties. 25,191 people showed up to watch the last home match of the season, half of what turned up to see a Liverpool B team play Shamrock Rovers in the same stadium just over a week before. The end of these friendlies and the introduction of the nations’ league will be greeted with open arms by all involved with the FAI as these low attendances can’t continue much longer.
The open training session
The FAI invited all season and vantage ticket holders to come along to Lansdowne Road on a Thursday evening to witness the first ever open training session for the Boys in Green. At first when the players came out, it was a low key affair as they went about their business as usual but once the training ended they were happy to sign autographs. Ten players in particular went around each fan and signed every autograph and stood for every picture. It was a great idea by the FAI and they should really think about having one more often as it boosted the image of the association along with many of the players.
After Darron Randolph pulled out of the squad, 19-year-old shot-stopper Ian Lawlor was called up as back-up to David Forde once Rob Elliot was absent due to his wedding. Lawlor is third choice at the Etihad Stadium but with Costel Pantilomon moving to Sunderland, Ian could be in with a shout of being no.2 at the Premier League champions. Irish football fans are beginning to get very excited about the Dublin-born goalkeeper and he could well be his country’s first choice come the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Then while in America, O’Neill called on American-born Ryan Meara who was previously called up to the U21’s in 2012 but couldn’t participate due to club commitments. Meara trained with the Irish team in his New York Red Bulls gear but his inclusion is a sign that he could be part of the manager’s plans for the future.
The news that the former-Sunderland custodian was linked with a move to Manchester City to team up with Lawlor caught many by surprise. The 29-year-old has been released from the Stadium of Light club and few expected the league champions to swoop for his services. There seems little chance that Westwood could dislodge England’s number one Joe Hart, so there seems little footballing reason for the Irish ‘keeper to take up the offer. If he does, he can kiss goodbye to his chances of replacing David Forde in the international set-up.
The Roy Keane Rumours
The rumours emerged a few days after the defeat to Turkey that Roy Keane was in pole position to take the job at the helm of Glasgow Celtic. When Martin O’Neill admitted that Roy had held an “informal chat” with owner Dermot Desmond, he became most of the bookies’ favourite to succeed Neil Lennon. The speculation continued until the 2nd of June when the official FAI twitter account announced that Keane would be travelling to the US “after deciding not to pursue talks with Celtic any further”. The story has continued though as Keane has since been linked with the vacant assistant manager’s role at Aston Villa. O’Neill appears confident that even if Villa did go for his second-in-command that Keane would be capable of handling both roles.
A depleted Irish squad lined out against a World Cup-bound Portugal that included World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo. The back four were noticeably weaker without the ever-present Seamus Coleman and Marc Wilson and a long season took its toll on Richard Keogh in the heart of the defence as he delivered a below-average performance.
We struggled to retain possession in the game, something that the Portuguese were very good at, which stopped us from really getting at the Euro 2004 finalists and, whenever we did, our final ball was letting us down. Probably the only positive of the game was James McClean’s goal, the Derryman said he was “over the moon” and that it “meant everything” to get his first international goal.
The former Shelbourne man has now played a part in every game since Martin O’Neill took the Irish reins, a clear indication in the shift in philosophy from the Trapattoni era. Hoolahan was one of only a handful of players to emerge from the Portuguese game with his reputation enhanced. At the grand age of 32, the Dubliner finally looks like playing a major role for his country. Norwich club-mate Anthony Pilkington has suggested O’Neill should build the team around the midfielder, but both players need to force their way into the side at Carrow Road next season to continue to attract O’Neill’s attention with Ireland.