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What big calls does Martin O'Neill need to make for Sunday's crucial qualifier?

Who would you pick for Sunday?

MARTIN O’NEILL has admitted that he has “a number of decisions” to make before he sits down to pick the team he hopes can secure three points from Poland in Sunday’s crucial Euro 2016 qualifier.

The lacklustre performance against Scotland last time out has left Ireland in a tricky position in their group.

A lot of fans are now calling on O’Neill to ring the changes from that side that were defeated in Celtic Park last November. But after spending four months scouting his players, what tough choices does Martin O’Neill now face?

1. Should Shay Given start against Poland?

Source: SportingWorld/YouTube

After a string of impressive performances for Aston Villa lately, Shay Given is desperate to break back into the Republic of Ireland first team. The 38-year-old goalkeeper is still playing second fiddle to Brad Guzan in the league but has shone in Villa’s FA Cup run, which has seen his side reach the semi-finals.

Given came out of retirement at the start of the campaign but has thus far been unable to reclaim his spot from O’Neill’s preferred first choice, David Forde. But with Forde’s Millwall side leaking goals in the Championship, will O’Neill be tempted to make a big call on Sunday?

2. Should Harry Arter be given a chance in Midfield?

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Harry Arter’s chances of winning his first full cap were boosted following his inclusion in the final squad for the qualifier. It was originally assumed that his call up was meant to be simply an introduction to the International setup but his recent performances may have put him in contention to play.

Jeff Hendrick and Darron Gibson were widely criticised for their performances against Scotland in November and a lack of depth in the position seems to have pushed Arter into the discussion. But would Martin O’Neill gamble with the attacking-minded midfielder or is he more likely to turn to reliable workhorses like Stephen Quinn or Glenn Whelan?

3. Who do we play up front?

Source: Major League Soccer/YouTube

So far in this campaign the established order of Robbie Keane and Shane Long has been a tough one to shift. When O’Neill did look to change things up against Scotland, he picked Walters ahead of Keane and it wasn’t even remotely successful. So will he dare to gamble again?

If he does, it’s hard to think of many Irish players in better form than Daryl Murphy. In fact, there is nobody in English football’s four top division who has scored more than the Waterford man this season. Alongside fellow Irishman David McGoldrick, Murphy’s 23 goals have fired Ipswich into the playoff places.

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 4. Could Robbie Brady start at left back?

Source: Gfycat

The left flank is currently proving an issue ahead of the Group D showdown this weekend with both Stephen Ward and James McClean struggling with injuries. Stephen Ward hasn’t trained at all this week, making it highly unlikely for him to start the match. This could definitely be a blessing in disguise for Ireland.

There are two options for O’Neill. Either he shifts Marc Wilson over from centre back or he puts Robbie Brady into the left back position. This wouldn’t be anything new for the Hull man who has been regularly used there by Steve Bruce. It’s also where he put in arguably his best performance in an Ireland jersey when he was man of the match against the USA in November, scoring twice in a 3-1 win.

5. Can Keane & Hoolahan play together?

Source: Rapgenius

This is one question Martin O’Neill must be sick of. The problem is it is still very relevant heading into Sunday. Fans and pundits alike will say we need Wes Hoolahan in the side because he possesses that ability to unlock defenses. If Ireland are to take the game to Poland and get those precious three points, he is the kind of creative influence we need.

The problem is Hoolahan’s inclusion means playing a lone striker and Robbie Keane himself has admitted the role does not suit him. He no longer possesses the pace to run in behind defenders or run down the channels. Shane Long then? That didn’t seem to work against Scotland. Where as Long will run up and down the channels all day long, he doesn’t have the same clever footballing brain that usually finds Keane in the right place at the right time.

So what does O’Neill do? Does he play Keane and Hoolahan? Or just Hoolahan? Or neither?

One thing is for certain, selecting the right personnel is crucial and could mean the difference between another Euros at home or a ticket to France.

– First published 14.33

Read: A Premier League cult hero is now Ireland’s U21 goalkeeping coach

Read: McClean a doubt for Sunday’s crunch Euro qualifier

About the author:

Donal Lucey

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