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O'Neill wants to take chance

Martin O'Neill has told his players to seize the moment and drag the Republic of Ireland firmly back into the race for Euro 2016 qualification against Poland.

The Poles head for the Aviva Stadium on Sunday night sitting at the top of Group D, three points clear of the chasing pack with Ireland, Germany and Scotland locked together behind them.

O'Neill's men slipped off the pace when they were defeated 1-0 by the Scots in Glasgow in November, but the 63-year-old manager insists he always believed their fate would be settled in Dublin and has challenged his team to prove him right by denting Poland's charge to the finals.

He said: "What we have to do is look at where we are at the moment: we have picked up seven points, we have played three away from home. We have given ourselves a chance.

"When the draw was made and the games were set out, that was the first thing I looked at, that of the first four games, three were away from home. We could have been out of the competition before we were ever in it.

"We have given ourselves a chance by winning in Georgia and getting a point in Germany. The games here were always going to be important. Now they have come around, so we are ready for them, we hope.

"We have to be ready for them. There's no point in being ready on Monday morning, let's be ready tomorrow night. Let's go and perform, let's perform to the best of our ability and if we do that, we'll go close in the game."

Such is the competition for the top two spots in the group - third place would send the occupants into the play-off scramble - that either victory or defeat this weekend could go a long way towards shaping the Republic's destiny.

Indeed, O'Neill admits coming away empty-handed would be nigh on disastrous.

He said: "I think that would be a big dent. If were beaten tomorrow night, it would be a big dent in proceedings, as you would expect, so we have to try to win the game."

O'Neill was giving little or nothing away about his team selection with the final open training session suggesting he may employ a three-man defence and wing-backs against the Poles, something he would neither confirm nor deny during his pre-match press conference.

But once again, the manager found himself having to defend his team, and in particular James McCarthy, after Liam Brady, for a time a member of former boss Giovanni Trapattoni's coaching team, suggested in a newspaper column that the Everton midfielder did not have the passion to play for Ireland.

O'Neill said: "People are entitled to say what they want. I wasn't aware of it, I didn't know that Liam had made these comments. He's entitled to make the comments, it's entirely his own prerogative.

"James in one year has actually only played one game for us, he has only started the game against Georgia, that's almost exactly a year, so this will be his second time around for us.

"I don't think I have any need at the moment to be questioning anyone's passion for playing for Ireland, I genuinely don't think that. I think I have said that a number of times. It's not just a sound-bite, I genuinely feel that.

"We might not perform as well, but that doesn't mean that the players don't want to play, absolutely not."

O'Neill will hope his players provide the perfect response to their detractors against Poland, although that may prove easier said than done with the visitors brimming with confidence after a near-perfect start to their campaign.

Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski perhaps represents the biggest threat to Irish hopes of victory, although he is far from the only danger man.

O'Neill said: "He's a top-class player, he's one of the best strikers in European football and playing for a side that's capable of winning any competition in Europe.

"He's very, very important to them, but he is not the only player. We have seen this in the group - they are not one-man team, they have got a number of top quality individuals playing in side which is able to create things for them, so I wouldn't just get carried away with the one player."

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