Embed from Getty Images
The Irish team and its supporters are in turmoil right now. The manager Martin O’Neill and, in particular, his assistant Roy Keane are under immense pressure from both the media and the fans. The 5-1 World Cup play-off defeat at home to Denmark is still fresh in everyone’s mind and a week of off-field scandal followed by a gutless loss to Wales means Irish football is in a very dark place.
The new Nations League was supposed to spark a new chapter for the Irish team with O’Neill intent on drawing a line under the Denmark loss and blooding both new and young players. But he has been rocked firstly by 19-year-old Declan Rice, who has played three friendlies for the senior team, pulling out of the squad as he considers a switch to England. This was followed by Harry Arter withdrawing from the squad over an argument with Roy Keane which took place four months ago during the summer friendlies.
Then just today an explosive leaked audio recording from Irish full-back Stephen Ward apparently revealed the details of that argument, in which Keane is said to have viciously insulted Arter questioning why he was not training. All of this, coupled with a severely weakened squad, has put immense pressure on O’Neill going into the Poland game.
Ireland’s team is missing a host of Premier League players who’d likely feature in the starting XI in captain Seamus Coleman, Ward, Robbie Brady, James McClean and striker Jonathan Walters. No one can see the team gaining much from the trip to Poland except, with all the negativity around the squad, there may well be a reaction with players aiming to prove themselves and post a positive performance.
In addition, there are young players with little or no experience aiming to make the most of any chance that they get including new strikers and Preston teammates Callum Robinson and Graham Burke.
Despite all the squad withdrawals, Ireland can still boast a close to full-strength defence. While Coleman is now out injured, he will be replaced by Fulham’s Cyrus Christie who did very well standing in for the Irish skipper as he recovered from a broken leg last season.
On the opposite flank, Ward has left the squad with an apparent injury but most likely as a result of his leaked audio file and will be replaced by exciting Wolves defender Matt Doherty.
One player to watch may be new call-up Ronan Curtis. The 22-year-old could make his international debut having scored five goals in six games for his club Portsmouth.
For their part, Poland who sit in League A in a the Nations League in a group alongside Portugal and Italy kicked off their campaign with a draw at home against the Azzurri. It was the first game in charge for new coach Jerzy Brzęczek while the lash with Ireland could also mark the 100th cap for 30-year-old Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski.
Prediction? A heavy defeat for Ireland and further pressure on the manager.