They’re the men who will fly the flag for Ireland at Euro 2012, our first major finals for ten years. Póg Mo Goal takes a look at the Boys in Green. Here’s the midfield.
McGeady is enjoying his best form in an Irish shirt having wasted too many years threatening to meet the potential his trickery always suggested. He’s been guilty of neglecting his defensive duties in the past and Ireland simply cannot afford a player not pulling his weight in three games where we can expect to be under extreme pressure. The emergence of James McClean, however, has lit a fire under McGeady and he could set the tournament alight if he continues in that vein.
Hard to imagine that Duff could be as pacey as the player who exploded at World Cup 2002 but the Dubliner still has flashes of it. Duffer is vital to Ireland’s attack but equally he knows how to track back or relieve pressure with a clever pass. Expect him to be constantly fouled, or to put it another way, constantly win free-kicks.
Hunty has endured a tough season at Wolves but he wears his heart on his sleeve when clad in green and Irish fans respond to that. He’s in danger of losing out to McClean as our go-to-guy from the bench but even if his game-time is limited, he’ll have an impact. He knows no other way.
The man-of-the-moment, McClean’s rise to prominence from Derry City to Premier League stardom with Sunderland through to the European Championship finals has been extraordinary because if the sheer pace of developments. Only for Aiden McGeady’s resurgence, McClean could have been down as a starter for the clash with Croatia on Sunday. His forthright comments that he aimed to replace McGeady and Duff in the Irish team shows a tremendous attitude. He’s shown a little shyness since stepping into the international set-up but his club manager Martin O’Neill has backed him to make a big impact at the Euros. “‘My own view is that I don’t particularly care who plays full-back for Spain, James has the capability of getting past him. He’s just got this inner sense of self-belief.”
Andrews was not the most popular player at Ewood Park when sections of the Blackburn Rovers support would boo him. He couldn’t wait to get out and he took the brave decision to drop to the Championship to Ipswich. The Dubliner made an immediate impact and was brought back to the Premier League with West Brom. Along with Glenn Whelan, he has earned the trust of the Irish manager. The duo were never paired together to offer creativity yet the midfield partnership has come under scrutiny for its inability to prevent becoming overrun. No one will be more aware than Andrews of the test that awaits.
Whelan produced a far more effective season at Stoke and enjoys the consistent trust of his international manager. Yet, even as recently as Monday’s clash with Hungary, Ireland were accused of being overrun in the middle third. This Irish team endured a torrent of public cynicism until it qualified for Euro 2012. Criticism of the playing style stemmed from an inability to create from midfield. The mood has shifted and the nation looks to Poland now in hope more than expectation. Glenn Whelan will know any chance of repaying that optimism will have to come from his position.
The Derryman felt slighted when Trapattoni suggested he should leave Old Trafford to gain first-team football. Eventually Gibson agreed and moved to Everton where he’s enjoyed a decent spell. The train of thought is that Gibson offers more of an attacking threat when he’s introduced to the Irish midfield. It hasn’t always worked out that way and he has been unable to break up the Whelan-Andrews axis. Yet Gibson is always searching and probing for a shot at goal and if he has to settle for being sprung from the bench, he may only need one chance to hit the target.
Green is the second unattached player in the Irish squad. He enjoyed a great start to his international career in friendlies with Paraguay and Algeria but his reputation was battered after Ireland’s home defeat to Russia in qualifying. His club situation did nothing to repair it and his promotion to the finals squad in place of Keith Fahey is seen as a major gamble by Trapattoni. His work-rate is never in question and he was instrumental in Ireland’s fine performance against Uruguay last year. However, if forced into action in Poland, Green, like Ireland, will be up against it. It may be an environment in which he thrives.