There has been some dispute over terminology in Dublin this week, with Republic of Ireland winger James McClean describing tomorrow night’s qualifier with Poland as “must-win”, assistant manager Roy Keane, of all people, stepping back from that, and manager Martin O’Neill, after sounding measured yesterday, coming round to a rallying call.
“You can talk until you’re blue in the face,” O’Neill said towards the end of a long week of daily press briefings. “Go into the game with confidence, real serious confidence about it, put club football aside, if it’s trials and tribulations, get that shirt on and go for it, go for it.
“Listen, this is a big game, a really big match. It’s taken a long while for it to come around and it’s nearly upon us now, so absolutely, they should feed off all of this and be really positive.”
O’Neill had spent much of yesterday discussing Aiden McGeady’s often non-playing situation at Everton, the inevitable personal frustration that brings, plus the selection issue, and he expressed the hope that adrenaline could carry McGeady through at least the beginning of the game in Dublin, which all can agree is must-not-lose.
The match marks the halfway point in Group D and if Poland were to win, they would extend their lead at the top and take themselves six points away from the Irish.
With world champions Germany and Scotland in the group, a home defeat would leave O’Neill’s squad scrapping for a place in the play-offs. And Scotland have to play Gibraltar twice yet.
The narrow Irish defeat in Glasgow in November has placed greater emphasis on home games, and after 17 months in the job, this is O’Neill’s first crucial competitive game in Dublin (Gibraltar were beaten there 7-0 in October.)
Poland tomorrow, and Scotland in June, are home cornerstone matches, especially after that loss in Glasgow.
“It wasn’t the result we wanted and it wasn’t the performance we wanted,” McClean said of Scotland, a result that took some gloss from the previous 1-1 draw in Germany.
It is why he and others are in the must-win camp, up against a Poland team that beat Germany 2-0 in Warsaw in October. The Poles have players missing in defence and midfield but in Robert Lewandowski and the improving Arkadiusz Milik of Ajax in attack, they will bring a threat to the Irish defence.
O’Neill has decisions about its composition – and whether to pick Shay Given ahead of David Forde in goal – as well as the midfield question of McGeady. Up front, it is still Robbie Keane leading the attack – his namesake Roy said this week it would be nice to see someone else step up – while Stoke’s Jon Walters and Southampton’s Shane Long offer alternatives in attack.
The Poles are said to have labelled the Irish long-ball and physical, to which O’Neill replied: “It’s not for me to retort – Poland are as physical a side as I have seen in some time.”Reuse content