Belfast Telegraph

Martin O'Neill insists Republic will look to attack

By Daniel McDonnell

This is a game which doesn't require a sales pitch, a throwback to the days when disorganised fans scrambling for last-minute tickets was the norm.

Make no mistake about it, tomorrow's Euro 2016 qualifier with Poland will generate the big-match atmosphere that has been lacking at the Aviva.

The caveat is that seats will be vacated and the whiff of apathy will return if the Republic fail to deliver in this game and June's subsequent visit of Scotland.

After lobbying hard for the expanded 24-team European Championship, it would be painful for the FAI to miss out and endure another year of doom, gloom and significant question marks.

Martin O'Neill doesn't need to be told the implications. In this sporadically active world, with months between games, there is ample time to consider every angle. Anything less than three points will make automatic qualification a long-shot.

"This is a big game," he asserted yesterday after a training session at Malahide which featured injury doubts James McClean and Stephen Ward. "It's taken a long while for it to come around and the players should feed off of this."

O'Neill must weigh up the value of experience against present form. Two of his big decisions revolve around whether to use Shay Given and Robbie Keane.

After being tipped to start the campaign, Given's withdrawal from the Scotland trip in November was relegated to a footnote because David Forde performed so well. However, a poor winter for Millwall has introduced the possibility of a switch.

The decision to drop Keane in Celtic Park was a bombshell and there would be less shock factor now the precedent has been set.

Ward's return to training has put him in contention at left back, but the fact that he's played just three minutes of football since December should tip the balance towards Marc Wilson, a call that would pave the way for either Ciaran Clark or Richard Keogh to partner John O'Shea.

Clark has impressed for Aston Villa of late and has experience of frustrating Robert Lewandowski from the 2013 friendly in Ballsbridge, although O'Neill inferred that it would be unwise to assume that the outcome of that clash will have any influence of his thinking for this serious encounter.

"You can talk until you're blue in the face," he said. "What you do is go into the game with confidence, real serious confidence, put club football aside, get that shirt on and go for it."

Belfast Telegraph