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Martin O'Neill's end-of-year Ireland report card

How did the Derryman perform in his role during 2014?

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

March

  • Ireland 1-2 Serbia

HAVING OPENED HIS reign with a win over Latvia followed by a draw away to Poland at the back end of 2013, Martin O’Neill began the year facing into another batch of friendlies before the first competitive game in September.

First up was the visit of Serbia to Dublin on 5 March. Kevin Doyle, Andy Reid and Richard Dunne all missed out through injury while Robbie Keane remained in the States to continue his preparations for the start of the MLS season.

Shane Long gave the home side the perfect start after capitalising on a mistake from Branislav Ivanovic but the Serbians struck back when James McCarthy directed Aleksander Kolarov’s pass into his own net and Filip Djordjevic put them 2-1 up on the hour-mark.

Eager to get another look at as many players as possible, O’Neill made string of changes in the final third of the game and suffered his first defeat as Ireland boss.

May

  • Ireland 1-2 Turkey
  • Ireland 0-0 Italy 

Two more home friendlies greeted Ireland in May before their end-of-season tour to the US. When the Turks came to town, Rob Elliot was rewarded for missing his own stag party in Las Vegas with a first senior cap in goal while Stoke pair Marc Wilson and Glenn Whelan were named as the midfield pairing.

The visitors looked more dangerous early on and Ahmet Ilhan Ozek put them in front on 17 minutes. Faith Terim’s men doubled that advantage with 15 minutes left on the clock and, despite Jon Walters pulling one back, it was a second consecutive loss for O’Neill.

The following weekend, Ireland made four changes, with Alex Pearce, David Meyler, Anthony Pilkington and Jeff Hendrick all coming in, and held Italy to a respectable 0-0 draw at Craven Cottage.

Pilkington did his best impression of Leo Messi but couldn’t produce a finish after this magical move.
https://vine.co/v/Mpzj6MAvM0M

June

  • Ireland 1-1 Costa Rica
  • Ireland 1-5 Portugal 

A trip to America was next on the schedule as Ireland accepted invitations from Costa Rica and Portugal to help them prepare for the World Cup with last minute warm-ups.

Travelling Stateside with a depleted squad due to a series of withdrawals, O’Neill handed Shane Duffy his full senior debut at centre-half and was happy overall with the 22-year-old’s display, although he admitted there was plenty of room for improvement.

The two teams line up Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Kevin Doyle began up front alongside Robbie Keane and scored Ireland’s only goal by getting the better of Real Madrid-bound Keylor Navas after Marc Wilson’s cross. The Costa Ricans went down to ten men when Doyle took an elbow to the head from Giancarlo Gonzalez but Arsenal’s Joel Campbell equalised on 63 minutes from the spot after David Forde had brought down Marco Urena and Robbie Keane saw his penalty saved.

In hindsight, the 1-1 draw in Philadelphia wasn’t a bad result against a team who would go on to be a surprise package at the World Cup — topping Group D ahead of Uruguay, Italy and England, then going out to the Netherlands at the quarter-final stage.

The following game, at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, was one the Ireland management team and squad will want to forget. Hugo Almeida opened the scoring for the Portuguese with two minutes played and Cristiano Ronaldo starred in a 5-1 drubbing — the heaviest defeat of the O’Neill era to-date.

September

  • Ireland 2-0 Oman
  • Georgia 1-2 Ireland

With one more friendly to get out of the way before they finally got down to business in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, Ireland entertained Oman at the Aviva Stadium. Shay Given made his return to the team having retired in 2012, while Richard Keogh captained the team and Robbie Brady proved influential with two deliveries which led to goals.

The Hull winger’s corner was met by the head of Kevin Doyle in the first half and Alex Pearce scrambled the ball home after another set-piece eight minutes from time in the 2-0.

So it was off to the the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena in Tbilisi for the curtain-raiser with Georgia. O’Neill opted for a 4-5-1 with Stephen Quinn getting the nod in a three-man midfield which also featured James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan while Aiden McGeady and Jon Walters occupied the wings and Robbie Keane began as the lone frontman.

Walters, Keane and McCarthy were all involved in Ireland’s opener with McGeady neatly finisihing off the move, but the home team struck back on 38 minutes when Tornike Okriashvili was given far too much room to lash a strike past Forde from distance.

Ireland fans celebrate Aiden McGeady's late goal Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Ireland could only manage a couple of half-chances in the second half and O’Neill threw on Shane Long and Robbie Brady in place of Keane and Quinn for the final quarter of an hour.

A draw looked on the cards with seconds of the 90 minutes remaining when collected Coleman’s cross, made a yard of space from himself with an exquisite turn on the edge of the box before finding the far corner with an incredible finish. It may have been smash-and-grab fashion but Ireland and O’Neill got the campaign off to the perfect start.
https://vine.co/v/OzaOiVJXmJe/card

October

  • Ireland 7-0 Gibraltar
  • Germany 1-1 Ireland

It was back to Dublin for the visit of Gibraltar — the continent’s lowest ranked team who are taking part in a UEFA qualifying campaign for the first time. The Ireland boss understandably spoke cautiously about the group minnows in the lead-up to the game but it was effectively won in the opening 18 minutes.

Robbie Keane scores the first goal Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Robbie Keane increased his record as Ireland’s all-time top scorer by finishing off two through-ball from Wes Hoolahan before scoring a penalty for his first half hat-trick. James McClean (2) and Hoolahan got in on the act to add to Jordan Perez’s own-goal in a 7-0 rout.

With six points in the bag, Ireland headed to Gelsenkirchen for the group’s toughest game on paper. Despite resting Shane Long against Gibraltar, there was no place in the team for the Southampton striker as the Boys in Green faced the current world champions — who had been hit by an injury crisis.

Glenn Whelan was forced off the field just after half-time and Ireland were putting in a spirited display when they conceded on 71 minutes. The Irish backline backed off Toni Kroos to allow him the time and space to pick his corner from 25 yards out.

Still a goal down deep into injury time, one last chance saw Hoolahan’s cross recycled by Jeff Hendrick and John O’Shea, on his 100th senior appearance, on-hand to flick the ball past Manuel Neuer for yet more late drama.

John O'Shea celebrates scoring Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

November

  • Scotland 1-0 Ireland
  • Ireland 4-1 US

With seven points from a possible nine, there was a heightened sense of optimism heading into Ireland’s meeting with Scotland in Glasgow. There were plenty of off-the-field distractions to fill the back pages in the run-up — from the ticket situation and John Delaney’s spat with the SFA to ex-Celtic boss O’Neill returning to Celtic Park as well as the incident involving Roy Keane outside the team hotel in Portmarnock.

How Scottish-born Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy would be received by the Tartan Army was also a running theme, although the latter was unable to recover from a hamstring injury and joined the injured Glenn Whelan in both returning to their clubs before the match.

O’Neill started with Darron Gibson and Jeff Hendrick in midfield and Walters in behind Shane Long up top, and the big news was that captain Robbie Keane was dropped in a competitive game for the first time in 14 years.

The Ireland team Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Ireland were second best to Gordon Strachan’s men for much of the evening and it didn’t come as a surprise when they fell behind to an excellent Shaun Maloney strike. A couple of late chances resulted in Grant Hanley heading onto his own crossbar but the Scots held out for a significant 1-0 win.

After the disappointment of their first group defeat, the squad had to pick themselves up for a meeting with the US in Dublin four days later.

Fans got to see new boys David McGoldrick and Cyrus Christie make their debuts and both impressed on the night. Ipswich Town striker McGoldrick set up goals for Anthony Pilkington and Robbie Brady while Derby County full-back Christie was a threat on the right flank.

Brady also produced an inch-perfect free-kick in a 4-1 victory over Jurgen Klinsmann’s side to end 2014 on a high.
https://vine.co/v/OJZWObzJAOz

Group D

Qualifiers: 4
Friendlies: 7
Total games played: 11

Wins: 4
Draws: 3
Losses: 4

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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