By John O’Hara
4th September 2015
Although the 4-0 win in Gibraltar was expected, Martin O’Neill’s hopes of qualification for Euro 2016 received a massive boost tonight, with the unexpected defeat of Scotland at the hands of Georgia.
Gordon Starchan’s men went down 1-0 against the Eastern Europeans, who will travel to Dublin on Monday for the crunch qualifying match against Ireland. This means that qualification is back in the hands of the Irish team, who have just three games to go to book their place at the 2016 Championships.
With Wales and Northern Ireland looking likely to qualify, Irish fans are looking optimistically towards the last three games, in the hope of joining their neighbours next summer in France.
With Seamus Coleman missing out due to a tight hamstring, it was Derby right-back, Cyrus Christie who opened the scoring with a great solo run, with a fantastic finish, although his intentions were not entirely clear. Regardless of whether this was a shot or a cross, Christie did enough to suggest a bright future in the green of Ireland.
Ciaran Clark provided a real attacking threat for the Irish in the opposition box, but he does need to eradicate the errors, which have been highlighted by his critics. Clark has been in fine form with Aston Villa and has the potential to be a real leader for Ireland in the future and he needs to grab every opportunity he can.
One big worry for O’Neill is the fact that his number one ‘keeper is currently the number two ‘keeper at Stoke. With three pivotal games coming up this autumn, it is imperative that Shay Given gets some first team action, if he is to play at the top of his game. The Donegal man has been one of the best servants to Irish football over the past two decades, but O’Neill needs to have an alternative, if he loses faith with the Lifford netminder.
The other worry for O’Neill is that his side are still heavily reliant on Robbie Keane for goals. The Dubliner has now scored a startling sixty-seven goals in international football, with number sixty six and sixty seven coming in Faro tonight, cementing his status as Ireland’s ‘go-to’ man once again. When you consider that Ireland’s previous top scorer, Niall Quinn finished his career with twenty-one goals, it is astonishing to think that the Tallaght man has now scored over three times as many goals. But O’Neill knows that Keane is not going to be effective as a lone striker, which may need to be adopted against the might of Germany and possibly Poland, away from home.
Shane Long did his chances of claiming the number nine jersey no harm with a late goal, which will give O’Neill food for thought, but Long himself knows he needs to be more prolific at international level. The fact that he is playing on the wing for his club may be harming his chances, but his pace and work-rate may be needed in the upcoming games, with the guile of Keane reserved for the final half-hour of the game.
James McCarthy, once again, has taken a lot of flak for his performance in the green of Ireland. For some reason, people are very quick to admonish the Everton midfielder, expecting him to single-handedly win games for Ireland. While agreeing that he does need to stamp his authority more on games, McCarthy is solid performer, who goes about his business in an unspectacular fashion. Many people have built the lad up to be the new Roy Keane, without ever actually watching him play. He was replaced in the 70th minute, but when O’Neill picks his team on Monday, you can be sure McCarthy will be one of the first names on the team-sheet.
So can we qualify automatically? Well, remembering the feeling of making the trek from the capital after the 1-1 draw with Scotland, it was agreed by many that all hope was lost, but now hope has crept back in to the equation and as every football fan knows, it’s the hope that kills us. A win on Monday night and a German win at Hampden will go a long way to making the play-off spot a likely outcome. But the dreamers among us will be hoping that we can get a draw against Germany and a win against Poland, with the Poles drawing with Scotland, which could see us in dreamland of second spot and automatic qualification.
As all Irish fans know, we never do things easy. Who would have thought Scotland would have gone down in Tbilisi? Football is, to quote a famous cliché, a funny old game, but right now, from where I’m sitting, being an Irish supporter feels a hell of a lot better than it did back in June. COYBIG!