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3 winners and losers from Ireland's latest international week

The Boys in Green earned an impressive victory over Austria on Saturday evening.

The winners

Martin O’Neill

Republic of Ireland Training and Press Conference - Ernst-Happel Stadium Source: PA Wire/PA Images

THAT DECISION TO sign a new contract is looking better by the day. O’Neill has turned Ireland into an incredibly difficult side to beat. There can be few qualms with his team selection the other night, given that it delivered Ireland’s first away victory against a top team since Scotland in 1987. The 64-year-old coach was also astute enough to change from a diamond to something closer to a 4-5-1 and moving James McClean to a more natural wide role — a call that paid dividends ultimately.

Harry Arter

Austria v Republic of Ireland - 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying - Group D - Ernst-Happel-Stadion Source: John Walton

Arter looked nervy early on as he made his competitive debut, with one or two of his passes going astray. However, the Bournemouth midfielder grew into proceedings, particularly after he moved to a slightly deeper midfield role in the second half, producing a number of strong challenges to break up Austria’s attacks. The 26-year-old London-born footballer brings more energy to the midfield than either James McCarthy or Glenn Whelan, and he will surely be pushing both for a starting spot come the home qualifier against Wales in March. In addition, David Meyler’s influential display after coming on for Whelan in Vienna means he is certainly another viable option for the defensive midfield role in future.

James McClean

Austria v Republic of Ireland - 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying - Group D - Ernst-Happel-Stadion Source: John Walton

Since starting in the 1-0 win over Italy at the Euros in the summer, James McClean has gone from being a fringe player to an indispensable member of the Irish side. With big players on and off the pitch in Shay Given and Robbie Keane retiring, it was important that others stepped up in their absence after Euro 2016. The Derry native has done just that, with three goals in his last two matches, including a tireless display on Saturday in which he managed to overcome a bad injury to figure prominently in the famous win.

The losers

Glenn Whelan

Glenn Whelan recieves treatment Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Unfortunately had to come off after 24 minutes injured, Ireland coped admirably in the absence of the 32-year-old midfielder. Moreover, when he does return, the Dubliner may find it hard to regain his place in the side, with Harry Arter and David Meyler impressing in his absence, while James McCarthy also has to come back from the injury that saw him miss Saturday’s game. Whelan has 78 caps for Ireland, but he’s arguably never faced greater competition for the position since making his debut against Serbia in 2008 during the Giovanni Trapattoni era.

Robbie Brady

Austria v Republic of Ireland - 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying - Group D - Ernst-Happel-Stadion Source: John Walton

Brady gave one of his better defensive displays against the Austrians, while his set pieces were consistently excellent. However, this good work was overshadowed, as he picked up a needless booking by foolishly kicking the ball away to waste time. As a result, he is now suspended for the home clash with Wales, and the Norwich man will certainly be a big loss for that pivotal qualifier, with Ireland not exactly blessed with a wealth of alternative options at left-back.

Ireland’s Group D rivals

Wales v Serbia - 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying - Group D - Cardiff City Stadium Source: Nick Potts

Saturday was very much the perfect day for Ireland, as literally all of the other Group D teams dropped points. Wales will be particularly frustrated, as they were within minutes of beating Serbia, before a late Aleksandar Mitrović goal ensured a share of the spoils between the two sides who are emerging as Ireland’s main rivals for the automatic qualifying spot in Group D. Consequently, the Boys in Green will end 2016 as group leaders, and with four of their remaining six qualifiers to be played at home, they have a right to start feeling optimistic about their hopes of reaching Russia in 2018.

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Paul Fennessy

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