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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 19 October, 2019

'James McClean broke his wrist... And was actually looking at an injection to see if he could play'

Martin O’Neill has emphasised his side’s positive attributes ahead of their clash with Wales tonight.

James McClean pictured during the Denmark game.
James McClean pictured during the Denmark game.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

- Paul Fennessy reports from Abbotstown

IRELAND BOSS MARTIN O’Neill was keen to highlight the positive attributes of his side’s play ahead of tonight’s Nations League clash against Wales.

The Boys in Green have picked up just one point from a possible six in their campaign so far, though Saturday’s 0-0 stalemate against Denmark was an improvement on their opening 4-1 defeat by Wales in Cardiff last month.

However, anything other than a win tonight will likely result in the Irish team finishing bottom of the table and suffering the disappointment of relegation from their group — a fate that will leave them as third seeds for the Euro 2020 qualifying draw in Dublin on 2 December.

Speaking on Monday, O’Neill acknowledged his team lacked creativity against the Danes and insisted the Boys in Green would try to be positive this evening.

“We’re trying to build, obviously, but we will try to win the game and give ourselves a chance,” the Ireland boss said. “We set out in the competition to try and do well. We were well beaten in Wales but we have the chance now to win a match at home, so let’s do it, let’s try and win it. If we do that, we’re right back in it.”

Despite widespread disappointment at the Irish team’s inability to break Denmark down at the weekend amid a cautious display, the Derry native suggested his men do not warrant undue criticism irrespective of their technical deficiencies.

“They want to play for their country and that’s really, really important and most players do, to be fair. But this group of players, certainly in my time here, have shown an incredible willingness to do it. None more so than James McClean, who broke his wrist in training the day before we played Wales and was actually looking at an injection to see if he could play in the game.”

O’Neill added jokingly: “James is obviously sometimes not right in the head. But he’s absolutely brilliant for us and he epitomises everything that this side has been about for the last few years.” 

The 66-year-old coach also suggested the mentality of the squad partially compensated for flaws elsewhere.

On technical ability, we’re short, and I think everybody can see that. But we’re not short of heart. We were well beaten last month [against Wales] but the players have given everything they possibly can for the cause. It’s a massive step to not be playing regularly in the Championship and come in and play against Denmark.

“That’s a tough ask for them to come in overnight and raise it. To be fair to them, for most of the time, they’ve done so. And I think the record over the last number of years suggests that it’s certainly not a lack of heart and desire.

“We wouldn’t have got where we have unless these boys wanted to do everything they possibly can when they’re here, wearing the shirt.”

Martin O'Neill 15/10/2018 Martin O'Neill has paid tribute to the Irish squad's mentality. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

One of the criticisms of the Irish team on Saturday was that they sat too deep in their half at times, and O’Neill feels it was a legitimate complaint.

“I do think that we can try to push out and get up the field a little bit so that the distances between the centre-back position and midfield is not that far.

“It’s a very big pitch, the Aviva, maybe we are short of a bit of phenomenal athletic ability in the side, so I agree that those distances are important and that we do try to work on that.

“When the danger is cleared for a start, let’s get up a little bit so it gives everybody a better chance. But that’s sometimes easier said than done.”

Arguably O’Neill’s biggest selection dilemma is who to play in attack this evening.

Shane Long worked tirelessly in the main front man role at the weekend, but has had limited game time at club level this season. Given that he looked exhausted coming off after 83 minutes of the Denmark game, selecting the 31-year-old Tipperary native from the outset three days later would be a big ask.

Callum Robinson, meanwhile, did his chances of starting this evening no harm, with an eye-catching 25 minutes off the bench against Denmark. With Callum O’Dowda ruled out through injury, dropping Jeff Hendrick deeper into midfield and playing the Preston star as a second striker looks a distinct possibility.

Whether it is Long or another attacker who leads the line remains to be seen. The alternative options, however, all come with caveats — Sean Maguire and Scott Hogan have played just once between them at club level this season primarily owing to injuries, while Aiden O’Brien, who came on for the final few minutes of Saturday’s match, has not been a guaranteed starter in the Championship with Millwall.

I will have a think about it,” O’Neill said. “Shane has played maybe a bit longer than we all expected, so we’ll have to see how he comes out of the game.

“We’ve got quite a number of players who haven’t played that much… For instance Sean, who definitely has ability, there’s no question about that, he’s a nice natural talent and hopefully he’s got a proper career ahead of him at club and international level, but he’s only played 15 minutes [for Preston]

“But if needs be, we’ll think about it. Hogan has not been picked by Aston Villa but he has been training for the last month, so obviously match fitness is a problem. But in terms of proper fitness, it’s not too bad.

“What I thought on Callum Robinson was that he gave us extra energy, gave us some impetus, took on a couple of players. Really decent. He’s a nice footballer and a nice lad, though that doesn’t guarantee him a place in the team.”

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Paul Fennessy

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