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Dublin: 7°C Wednesday 30 September 2020

3 winners and 3 losers from Ireland's clash with Poland

Shane Long and others who impressed in the green jersey on Sunday night.

Players who enhanced their reputations

Shane Long

Shane Long celebrates scoring a goal Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

GRANTED, SHANE LONG didn’t really do much apart from score the goal, but that act alone could prove hugely significant, both in terms of Ireland’s campaign and future team selections.

The common criticism of the Southampton man is that he doesn’t score enough, but with two goals in two games (one for Ireland, one for Southampton), his confidence must be up.

There was an element of good fortune about the equalising goal on Sunday, as it took a deflection before going in, but Long still showed impressive skill with an excellent first touch to create the chance initially.

He now has 12 goals in 52 international appearances, which is not bad, when you take into account that so many of those caps were won coming off the bench. More significantly though, it was just his second-ever goal in a competitive match for Ireland (the other, again from the bench, coming in 3-2 loss at home to Russia in 2010) — a reflection of both Martin O’Neill and Giovanni Trapattoni’s reluctance to play him in the big games as much as anything else.

Moreover, the 28-year-old once managed 21 goals in a single season for Reading (albeit in the Championship), which suggests he is capable of scoring at a decent rate if managers such as O’Neill are willing to place faith in the Tipperary native by starting him regularly.

James McClean

James McClean Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

A fierce, full-blooded tackle on Arkadiusz Milik typified James McClean’s impact after replacing Aiden McGeady on Sunday.

Far more direct compared with the Everton player, McClean consequently gave the opposition full-back much more to think about.

On another day, McClean could even have had a hat-trick of assists, such was the accomplished manner of his crossing and the extent of his influence in general.

The crowd were clearly buoyed by the Derry native’s performance and others around him seemed similarly inspired.

Despite not enjoying the best of seasons with Wigan in the Championship, he must now be a prime candidate to start against Scotland in June, with Martin O’Neill full of praise for his performance in the post-match press conference.

Jon Walters

Jonathan Walters and Lukasz Szukata Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

One of Ireland’s most under-appreciated players, Walters may not have the natural talent of someone like Hoolahan, but he is often similarly effective.

Against the Poles on Sunday, he became more effective as the game developed, with Martin O’Neill wisely moving him to a more central position following the opening goal.

With Robbie Keane having another quiet game, Walters provided Ireland with some much-needed physicality in attack with his invaluable hold-up play.

He won five free kicks in total — more than any other player on the field apart from Seamus Coleman — and played his part as a revitalised Irish team eventually broke the Polish resistance.

Enjoying a fine season at Stoke with 10 goals in total, Walters has had to be content with a place out wide for much of O’Neill’s reign so far, but could finally be entrusted with a central position on account of his performance at the weekend.

Players who will feel disappointed

Aiden McGeady

Aiden McGeady reacts to a missed chance Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Showed one or two glimpses of the magic that rescued Ireland against Georgia, but for the most part, McGeady delivered a subdued display.

For a player whose game is all about taking players on, he rarely beat the opposition full-back, while it’s hard to remember him ever delivering a penetrating cross or creating a chance of note, even if he did see a decent chipped effort go narrowly wide just before half-time.

In general, he seemed to lack match sharpness, which is not surprising, given his lack of game time at Everton recently.

And especially if the former Celtic player continues to flounder at Goodison Park, his place in Ireland’s first XI will surely be under threat come June.

Robbie Keane

Robbie Keane reacts Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It’s unfortunate to say, given that he is widely regarded as Ireland’s best-ever striker and boasts a phenomenal goalscoring record at international level, but Keane looked well past his best at the Aviva the other night.

The idea that he can play as a lone frontman seems increasingly absurd yet continues to be indulged, while even the addition of Jon Walters to the forward line failed to bring out the best in the LA Galaxy striker.

While his performances at club level — even in what is a relatively poor league — warrant respect, he has now failed to score in four of Ireland’s last five competitive games, and the one match he did manage to prosper in was against the minnows of Gibraltar.

And although Keane’s knack for getting a goal means he still could conceivably do damage from the bench, his hold on an automatic starting spot now looks more tenuous than ever.

Glenn Whelan

Glenn Whelan and Grzegorz Krychowiak Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Granted, he is sometimes unfairly maligned, and seems to work as hard as anyone, but Sunday night was one of those games where Whelan looked a passenger for large parts.

With Poland’s attacking threat increasingly minimal as the game wore on, the Stoke man — who is largely in the side for his defensive abilities — added little in a team that badly needed to score, particularly when James McCarthy performs effectively the same function as Whelan while being better on the ball.

He might be needed in a backs-to-the-wall-type performance against Germany, but in the Scotland game, in which a victory appears essential, a more adventurous selection in midfield — Stephen Quinn or Harry Arter perhaps — might prove more fruitful.

And one player who was a decidedly mixed bag…

Robbie Brady

Robbie Brady celebrates Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

By most accounts, Robbie Brady had a nightmare first-half against Poland.

The 23-year-old Hull player was primarily responsible for the goal Ireland conceded, while he gave the ball away too often and his famed set-piece delivery — largely cited as the main reason for his selection — was unexpectedly awful.

Martin O’Neill’s gamble to play Brady at left-back was consequently looking like a disastrous mistake by the stage the half-time whistle sounded.

However, Brady showed admirable character amid an improved second-half display. His composure on the ball, which seemed non-existent in a nerve-ridden first half, suddenly became noticeable.

The ex-Man United man was far more of a threat going forward from the full-back position, linking up well with James McClean on more than one occasion, while his set pieces also improved, and he ultimately delivered the corner from which Ireland scored.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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