Belfast Telegraph

Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill forced to play the waiting game

By Daniel McDonnell

There was no attempt from Martin O'Neill to exaggerate the importance of friendly matches in the aftermath of Tuesday's dismissal of the USA. He made it clear that the overriding sentiment from this November gathering is disappointment at failing to do the job that was expected of his Republic of Ireland team in Glasgow.

In the race to make Euro 2016 it was a stumble rather than a critical mistake and O'Neill's charges still have plenty of time to find their stride.

That's why delivering a positive attacking performance on home soil against the USA, even if there were defensive deficiencies, offered some encouragement for the bigger picture.

The Republic have been tricky to break down on their travels - every goal they've conceded so far in this qualifying campaign has been a result of slow reactions to long-range situations as opposed to being cut apart.

If they can keep that resolution and add some invention going forward then they do have a chance.

The problem for O'Neill is that he is now powerless to dictate the fortunes of his squad over the four-month break until the meet-up for the Polish visit.

Robbie Brady, who grew into a left-back role from an attacking point of view, will go back to Hull with no guarantee of regular football, although he has played for them over the past month.

David McGoldrick, who O'Neill feels will improve with a run of games as he missed pre-season this term, was struck down by a season-ending injury in February.

So many things can happen to players over the winter months in terms of fitness, form and club standing that it's impossible for the manager to say with certainty what the US exercise could mean for Poland because he cannot predict what the state of play will be when that fixture comes around.

"I might have mentioned about knowing your best team," said O'Neill.

"I think I have a fair idea, but these things can change on a monthly basis.

"It's nice to know that some of these lads can actually compete at this level. But you might have a situation for instance where somebody who has played really well against the Americans might not be a regular player at club level in the month leading up to Poland.

"Sometimes managers don't pick players and if they lose a bit of sharpness, you lose that performance you had maybe three and a half months ago which you thought was excellent."

Brady's track record marks him out as a player that O'Neill could be concerned about in this regard.

He was barely available during the manager's first year in charge because of a troublesome groin injury that left him watching from the sidelines at Hull.

The former Manchester United player was then frustrated by Steve Bruce's team selections at the start of this season and has only broken back into their side as a wing-back.

By springing him from the bench in Glasgow, O'Neill proved that he holds the talented Dubliner in high esteem. But he is a prime example of an individual who needs security in his club career in order to be trusted.

What has impressed the Derry man is the character of an individual who seems to have doubters in terms of his application.

His club manager, Bruce, even suggested that Brady's injury issues were complicated by his mental approach.

"He's a lovely footballer, it's nice to actually say it to him," continued O'Neill. "And he's a genuinely a nice lad. I don't know where people got this impression of him before but in my dealings with him he has been really excellent.

"The free-kick, his second goal, I knew his confidence was high and just felt that he might score. But he's one of those players you might be referring to.

"This is not me telling managers to play them. These things happen at club level and it's a long time, a long time for me."

Another aspect of his winter work will be endeavouring to uncover another McGoldrick or Cyrus Christie.

"It's up to me to search and see if those players are capable of stepping into a big arena," O'Neill continued.

"Cyrus Christie looked excellent going forward as he is doing for Derby County on a regular basis," enthused the manager.

"Young McGoldrick who didn't have a pre-season, I think you can tell that at times during the game, but he gives you a little bit of something that I think we possibly hadn't possessed up there."

His ruminations will revolve around more than just the identity of his chosen personnel and O'Neill again speculated that a switch to a 3-5-2 formation is a possible option.

"Someone asked me six or seven months ago did I think Seamus Coleman could play wing-back. I think I said that he could," he said.

"That is something we would want to have a look at. Maybe to get our best players on the field we might have to look at a 3-5-2 formation at home which I think is possible.

"The problem with all of those things if you want to be really technical about it is that sometimes centre-halves don't really like to go out to full-back positions. But I'm not so sure that the players we have here would be reluctant to do it, as long as we practised it."

His last clause is an important caveat and the reality is that when O'Neill sees his players next, he will have just a few short days to ready them for a seismic Aviva encounter.

Their health will determine his wealth.

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