RICHARD KEOGH BELIEVES Martin O’Neill deserves time to improve Ireland’s fortunes after the team’s decline continued at the Aviva Stadium last night.
A 1-0 defeat to a severely weakened Wales side looks likely to condemn the Boys in Green to relegation to League C in the Uefa Nations League, as well as the third seeding pot for December’s draw for the Euro 2020 qualifiers. The sides were separated by a second-half free-kick scored by Keogh’s clubmate Harry Wilson.
Keogh, who again acted as captain in the absence of the injured Seamus Coleman, felt Ireland deserved more from the game despite a current run of form which has seen them win just once — a friendly against USA — in their last nine outings.
“When you lose a game like that where I don’t think we deserved to, obviously it’s tough to take,” the Derby County defender said. “That’s football unfortunately. It’s disappointing to concede from a set-play. Other than that I can’t remember them having many chances. I thought the last 25 minutes was ours. On another day we would have got the equaliser.”
In order to have any chance of avoiding finishing at the bottom of Group 4 in League B, Ireland must record an unlikely win away to Denmark next month. However, the Danes must also lose in Cardiff three days earlier if Ireland are to have something to play for in Aarhus.
“It’s been a tough group and obviously we’d like more points on the board,” said Keogh. “The reality is that’s not the case. We’ve got to dust ourselves down and come again. We’ve got Denmark to go, we need results to go our way, but we’ll keep fighting until the end. Stranger things have happened in football”
He added: “We go into every game trying to win it. With this squad now, nights like this will definitely help them. Experiencing that is not nice as a professional. It’s a young group that are learning and, like I say, we’ve got to make sure that we learn from that so that when the next one comes around, we’re ready to go again.”
Admitting that confidence in the camp has dipped as a consequence of recent results, Keogh also insisted that Ireland will improve significantly upon the return of injured players such as Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Robbie Brady.
Despite the mounting pressure, Keogh believes Martin O’Neill is capable of steadying the ship. The 32-year-old centre-back pointed to the wins over Germany (October 2015) and Italy (June 2016) as evidence of O’Neill’s potential as a manager.
“The manager is a passionate guy and obviously he’s disappointed, like the players,” he said. “If you actually look at the manager since he’s been here, we’ve achieved some amazing things. He’s given me some of my best moments in football and I think a lot of lads are the same: the Germany night, qualifying for the Euros, the Italy game.
“These are moments that will live with you forever. That’s down to the manager and his coaching staff. He’s lost a lot of big players, like people retiring who were big characters in the squad. He’s trying to rebuild the team and sometimes that takes a little bit of time. We’re disappointed, we want to win more games, but I think if you look at it, the future is bright.”
Keogh added: “I can only speak on behalf of me and a lot of the lads who have been together a long time. We’ve enjoyed the last five years. We’ve loved it. It’s a bit of a rebuild mode but, I think if you ask the manager, he’s still loving it. You could see from our performance that we’re all going to the end. We’re all together. That’s the most important thing.”
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