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'Dunphy was talking nonsense. If Hoolahan was that good he'd be starting for Norwich every week'

BT pundit and former Wales midfielder Robbie Savage believes the criticism towards Martin O’Neill is unwarranted.

Robbie Savage Savage at today's eir Sport launch in Dublin. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

AS A GUEST of eir Sport for today’s launch of their latest Sports Pack, Robbie Savage spent last night in a Dublin city hotel.

After watching his beloved Wales claim a 2-0 win over Moldova to move into the play-off place in Group D, the BT pundit had a flick through the channels and came across post-match analysis of Ireland’s 1-0 defeat to Serbia.

Having listened to a grey-haired man claim Ireland’s management team had just cost the nation a place at the World Cup, the former Leicester City, Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers midfielder took to Twitter and quickly learned the identity of the outspoken RTÉ analyst was Eamon Dunphy.

“It was a genuine question,” Savage said earlier today. “I was in the hotel, I’ve never worked in Ireland on the TV and I don’t have that station in my house.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play football. I was in the hotel last night watching the Wales game and as it finished I changed over. There was this gentleman, well-presented, speaking for three or four minutes but no caption came up.

I just put a picture up saying ‘Who’s this guy talking nonsense on the TV?’ I didn’t know who he was. My Twitter went mad and I was trending in Ireland with everybody sending me clips. No disrespect, I’ve had to Google him since.

“He’s a man of opinions and he must be doing something right because he’s working in the industry for a long time. I just thought he was talking nonsense — which I’ve done at times — but sometimes when you do that you have to back it up with facts. I’m not quite sure I head that.”

Eamon Dunphy has always championed Wes Hoolahan and stated last night that if he had played for an hour in Tbilisi, Ireland would have come away with three points. Ex-Wales international Savage believes there are holes in that argument, however.

“I find that absolutely bizarre,” he added. “It’s okay saying that but you have to back it up.

“I look at Wes Hoolahan’s career. I played against him on one or two occasions because he played the majority of his career in the Championship and he has been a fantastic Championship player.

“Georgia is a very difficult place to be and I’ve played there many times. Georgia were the better side against Wales in Cardiff and should have won the game but Wales got a draw.

Yet, Eamon Dunphy was suggesting that if a guy, who’s 35 and can’t get in Norwich’s side, had played they would have won the game.

“I don’t wan’t want to be disrespectful to Wes Hoolahan and he is nice with the ball, but you have to look at if factually. I’m not having a go at him and it’s not his fault if Dunphy wants to talk about him all the time but if he was doing exceptionally well he would be starting for Norwich every week.”

Republic of Ireland v Serbia - 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying - Group D - Aviva Stadium Hoolahan playing last night. Source: Niall Carson

Last night’s results leaves Wales second behind leaders Serbia with a point back in third ahead of the penultimate round of fixtures in October. O’Neill has been criticised for allowing a promising position slip away but Savage says Irish fans need to take a reality check as very few of their players would get into the current Welsh or Serbia teams.

“It was a great night for Wales and they’ve got momentum now,” Savage said. “They haven’t played well in the group but it’s not about playing well — it’s about getting through.

“You might say that Ireland had a great start but since then they have fallen away a little bit. How many Ireland players would get in the Wales or the Serbia sides?

“If Seamus Coleman was fit, yeah no question. Duffy is a possible if Wales played three centre-halves. He wouldn’t get in over Ashley Williams and Ben Davies but James Chester and James Collins, he might.

“Who else? Shane Long over Hal Robson-Kanu or Sam Vokes? Possibly not. Robbie Brady? Not ahead of Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey or Gareth Bale.

It’s alright hammering Martin O’Neill for not winning games or playing well but if you break if down and look at it constructively as a fan or a pundit, if they finish second they have massively overachieved.

“They were fourth seeds, yet Martin O’Neill is getting criticised because A) they’re not playing well and, B) they might not qualify.

“If I had asked any of you that you could go to Cardiff on the last game and a win would guarantee second what would you have said? Qualifying campaigns aren’t about playing well if you get over the line, and they might.”

He added:  ”The easiest thing to do is criticise and hammer people because it might get a few headlines, but I find it’s harsh because none of us have been in that situation. We all have an opinion — whether you’ve played or not — but you have to look at things factually.

“O’Neill would love to qualify and get to the World Cup, but the group of players Ireland have… they’re’s no Damien Duff, Roy Keane, Robbie Keane, Shay Given. I don’t see any real leaders on the park.

“Is that Martin’s fault? You might say he should galvanise them and we saw at the Euros with Robbie Brady’s winner against Italy. We’ve seen that they can get themselves up that big moment, but there are no easy games at international level.

“Luxembourg went to France and drew 0-0 with a side that’s worth £500 million. Then Ireland get hammered because they draw in Georgia.”

While the Boys in Green welcome Moldova to Dublin on 6 October, Chris Coleman’s side are away to Georgia and

“From an Irish perspective, Moldova at home is almost a guaranteed three points although it won’t be easy. They should win that one, and we’re all sitting here now thinking Wales are favourites but if you’re looking at it, they have got a tough game in Georgia.

“That’s why I can’t believe the criticism that Martin has got after the point in Georgia when you could have won the game.”

Chelsea V Leic City Savage O'Neill and Savage together during their Leicester City days. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

It has been suggested at times that the Ireland players have gone out onto the pitch without fully knowing the jobs they’ve been asked to do by the manager. However, as someone who played under O’Neill for three years at Leicester — winning the League Cup in 2000 — Savage dismissed such claims.

“If you’re a player who has worked all week with the team and you go out on the pitch not knowing what you have to do, you shouldn’t be playing,” he said.

I think that’s an excuse. Every time I’ve played in a Martin O’Neill side I knew exactly what I was doing. You’re not telling me, with the experience he’s got and Roy Keane… as a centre midfield player you should know your role and if you don’t then ask.

“That’s what I don’t get. You have the group of players for 10 days or so, you’ll try three or four different formations and those guys will be watching training and come up with the best way to beat the opposition.

“Last night, they played the diamond shape but had no width. I heard people saying surely Ireland need to get the ball in quicker. I believe Long is the ball over the top and I don’t think they’ve got the players to get it wide. How many headed goals have Long and Jon Walters got?

“When you look at it all, what is Ireland’s best style of football? Can they pass teams to death? No, they haven’t got the players. Can they outrun teams? Possibly. I think that is the mentality of players who play in the Championship and the Premier League.

“Have they got great width? No, maybe with the exception of McClean who can take players on. When you look at Ireland as a squad, I think I’d have difficulty with them as well.”

Pictured is BT Sport football analyst Robbie Savage, who was appearing to promote the BT Sport line-up on the eir Sport Pack, at eir Group HQ. eir Sport today announced an exciting line up of live content for the new season on the eir Sport Pack. The Uefa Champions League, the Uefa Europa League, the Premier League, rugby’s European Champions Cup, the AIB Club Championships and the Allianz Leagues will all form part of a bumper season ahead

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