If Ireland take three points in Tbilisi, the game with Oman might well have served its purpose. The last meeting came in Fulham’s Craven Cottage in September 2012 when Robbie Brady made his Irish debut with a standout performance. A month later the Dubliner was named in Manchester United’s Champions League squad list but the following January, following a second loan spell, he was signed by Hull City. Just as it has for Brady, much has changed in Irish football circles since then, but he may be about to step into the limelight.
Giovanni Trapattoni is gone, succeeded by Martin O’Neill but the new Irish boss has to contend with Germany again, and now they are the world champions. There are other similarities. Trapattoni kicked off his first competitive campaign with a vital win over Georgia, played in Mainz. O’Neill must take his charges to Tbilisi this weekend. With the qualifiers coming so close to the Premier League kick-off there actually hasn’t been that much opportunity to assess the current form of his players. And in that sense the opening clash is something of a poker game for O’Neill. Does he gamble on a more attacking approach hoping the likes of Keane and Hoolahan are the aces in the pack? Every manager needs luck. His predecessor seemed to possess it in spades earlier in his tenure but we’ve yet to see the hand of cards O’Neill will play in a competitive game.
With Roy Keane’s name added to the ticket, Ireland’s new manager arrived in a blaze of publicity but with just days until their first qualifier, the Aviva Stadium hosted a paltry attendance for the friendly with Oman.
However, places in O’Neill’s plans are very much up for grabs. Darron Gibson started against Oman with a mandate to earn his place after a massively frustrating run of injuries. The surprising return of Shay Given to Ireland’s squad has thrown up another indication of O’Neill’s thinking. Perhaps on Roy Keane’s advice, he wants leaders around the place, especially with the departure of Richard Dunne – perhaps not necessarily in the team but within the set-up. Given has played in a World Cup and European Championship and performed at the top level for a hell of a long time. That type of experience it seems is highly valued by both O’Neill and the Donegalman’s new coach at club level.
Given played 45 minutes on Wednesday but had precious little to do. It proved a good outing for two players who impressed the last times these nationas met in Craven Cottage. Alex Pearce got on the scoresheet again showing some brilliant footwork while Robbie Brady, who also scored on his debut in London, staked his claim for a starting berth on Sunday following the news that James McClean is ruled out. Brady’s set-piece delivery caught the eye with both Irish goals coming from the dead ball. Still just 22, he has endured his own injury lay-offs in recent times but he may be about to take a prominent role in the green jersey.
Eleven months on we still don’t really know what effect O’Neill will have on Irish football’s fortunes. The game with Oman hardly helped us in that regard but it might give everyone involved a confidence boost ahead of the real business this weekend. Everyone has Georgia on their minds.
Main image: Michael Kranewitter