Belfast Telegraph

O'Neill: McGeady magic can keep Russian dream alive

By Damian Spellman

Martin O'Neill has admitted the Republic of Ireland may need another piece of Aiden McGeady magic to keep their World Cup qualifying campaign on track in Georgia.

Three years ago, the former Celtic winger struck late at the Boris Paichadze Arena to secure a precious 2-1 victory to launch what was to be an ultimately successful bid to reach the finals of Euro 2016.

Now playing his club football at Sunderland, McGeady will return to the scene of that triumph on Saturday evening hoping he and his team-mates can repeat the feat to edge closer to a trip to Russia next summer.

Manager O'Neill said: "Aiden, he's in pretty good form and decent shape. I remember that distinctly when he came here [in 2014], and he relished it and he scored a fantastic late goal to win the game for us.

"I think this will be a reminder, the game will be in his mind. Whether he starts or not, he's in good form. His wife just had a baby too, so things are good for him in his own personal life and on the field Sunderland are pretty happy with him.

"His manager, Simon Grayson, believes in him and I never lost faith in him in that sense. He's a great talent and it may take something like that for us tomorrow night."

Ireland currently boast a perfect record against Georgia, who they have met on eight occasions to date and emerged victorious each time. However, those games have become increasingly testing over recent years and O'Neill believes the latest instalment could be the most difficult yet despite Vladimir Weiss' men having collected only three points from their opening six fixtures.

The Republic boss, who saw Seamus Coleman fire his men to victory with the only goal in the reverse fixture at the Aviva Stadium in October last year, said: "I think that this is a really, genuinely difficult game for us."

"They could easily have scored a second goal here, they should have scored a second goal against Serbia and gone on to win that game.

"These are good players, they are exceptionally talented footballers who might feel as though they haven't had a great deal of luck in the competition."

The game will be played in sweltering temperatures in Tbilisi with the city enjoying a good summer even by its standards, and Ireland will have to contend with that as well as their opponents and a partisan crowd.

However, they will do so with senior striker Jonathan Walters fit and available after battling an ankle injury, and his return could hardly be more timely with David McGoldrick having withdrawn from the squad to attend the birth of his latest child.

O'Neill revealed the Ipswich man could return for Tuesday's home clash with Serbia, saying: "David McGoldrick, his wife delivered a baby but she lost a lot of blood. She's recovered, she's out of hospital now, but I think it was important for him to be there.

"He may well be available for Tuesday - though Tuesday is not on my mind at all - but if he's not, I may consider other options."

Fixtures

Today (5pm): Georgia v Rep of Ireland, Serbia v Moldova, Wales v Austria (7.45pm)

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