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Martin O'Neill hits back at claims Ireland play 'primitive' football

The Irish boss also defended his use of James McClean in the wing-back role.

Martin O'Neill (file pic).
Martin O'Neill (file pic).
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

- Paul Fennessy reports from Abbotstown

IRELAND BOSS MARTIN O’Neill has rejected claims the 3-5-2 system he employed against Denmark was ill-suited to certain players and also hit back at claims the team’s style of play was “primitive”.

A surprise starting line-up on Saturday night saw Cyrus Christie deployed in central midfield, a position he had not played since he was “about 14,” while James McClean was selected as a left wing-back.

However, the Derry native played down suggestions he wasn’t playing to certain individuals strengths.

“I don’t agree at all,” the Ireland boss said. “James McClean has played left wing-back on a number of occasions. The truth is that Stephen Ward has done exceptionally well for us and a lot of that is to do with James McClean playing in front of him and getting back to cover.

“So I totally disagree. James McClean is a left-sided player who has played left wing-back. He’s played left wing-back for country and club. The only player we have playing in the position that he doesn’t normally play in is Cyrus Christie, who ended up being man of the match.”

O’Neill stopped short of saying whether or not he would persist with the 3-5-2 system but did confirm that Bristol City star Callum O’Dowda — who was withdrawn at half-time of the Denmark stalemate after feeling dizziness — would play no part against Wales on Tuesday.

It’s precautionary, as much as anything else,” O’Neill said. “He wasn’t feeling great at half-time but he can’t remember when it actually happened during the course of the game. We are trying to find out ourselves.

“So the best thing to do was to take him off, take him out of it. And then any sort of reaction, it would be too early to consider him for tomorrow night.”

O’Neill also said Shane Long, who played 83 minutes of action against the Danes but has not seen much action for his club of late, had taken a few “knocks and bruises” and that the management staff “would see how he is” before making a call on whether he starts Tuesday’s game or not.

In addition, asked if Christie, the man of the match on Saturday night, would be deployed once more in an unfamiliar central midfield role, O’Neill responded: “I certainly would not dismiss it, I think he did very well. Let’s be fair, we have missed Seamus Coleman’s brilliance on many occasion over the last 18 months. And Cyrus has played at right full back, at right wing-back, right wing and now he has played in there. He has shown his adaptability and I thought he was excellent in there.”

While acknowledging the absence of key players, including Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, would be a “blow” to Wales, O’Neill believes they remain formidable opposition. After Ryan Giggs’ side’s emphatic 4-1 win against Ireland in Cardiff last month, he says his team are keen to ensure a different outcome this time around.

“We’ll try to do better. Obviously, they outplayed us in the game and I think the adjustments that we’ll have to make during the course of the match will be very important.”

O’Neill also expects more from his side creatively, after the Boys in Green registered just one shot on target against Denmark.

“We have to try to use the ball in the final third and be confident on it.

“International football, I think, is a step up from club level and it’s about making that adjustment in a game so it’s not just as simple as [being about your mindset].”

The 66-year-old coach also hit back at recent claims from Denmark midfielder Thomas Delaney that the Irish side play in a “primitive” fashion.

“It’s not long ago that Denmark were considered a primitive side with a world-class player,” he added.

“Sometimes, it’s quite easy to make those sort of remarks. Denmark, who did exceptionally well in the World Cup, eventually didn’t cause us many problems.

They’re still dangerous with the players they have. Delaney is improving by the year, a really top-quality player who plays for a top-quality team, but it’s not long ago that Denmark were considered primitive by a lot of teams in Europe as well. And they can play pretty primitively too — [they have] the centre forward, who’s six-foot seven, [Andreas] Cornelius who didn’t play in the game — they’re a strong, physical side.

“If you asked teams around Europe, they’ll say Christian Eriksen ‘world class,’ Delaney’s a top-quality player, little [Pione] Sisto plays in a big league as well, Spain, but they can dish it out themselves if necessary. They’re as physical a side as you’ll see in European football, so I wouldn’t concern myself about other remarks.”

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Paul Fennessy

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