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'We learned a bad lesson 4 years ago but I don't think it will happen again in France'

Ronnie Whelan says the current squad are in a better place heading to a major tournament than Trap’s men back in 2012.

Euro 2012 proved to be a nightmare campaign.
Euro 2012 proved to be a nightmare campaign.

RONNIE WHELAN HAS expressed his concern at the lack of attacking options available to Martin O’Neill at this summer’s European Championships, but insists the squad are in a good place heading to France.

O’Neill has named just three recognised strikers his his 23-man panel for the tournament, while there are concerns over the fitness of Robbie Keane who will miss the campaign opener against Sweden.

Speaking at the launch of RTÉ’s Euro 2016 coverage, Whelan says O’Neill may have left himself short in the attacking department.

“I think there could have been more in it,” the Liverpool legend said.

“The likes of [David] McGoldrick, [Eunan] O’Kane…they could have added to the squad. I’m not saying who you could leave out but he could have made better decisions, made room for them.

“It’s what we sort of knew what he would do, he’s not going to make wholesale changes.

“The way he’s gone with the three central midfielders, that’s the strong centre, defensively he wants to be strong which isn’t a bad thing but you still need a bit of guile.

“Have we got enough guile in the team? Robbie is a great goalscorer, you looked at [Daryl] Murphy…is he the answer if Robbie is injured and Shane Long gets injured? You leave yourself a little bit weak up front.”

The injury to Harry Arter forced O’Neill’s hand somewhat but he opted to leave Ipswich striker McGoldrick and Kevin Doyle at home in order to bolster his midfield resources.

Shane Long and Robbie Keane Long and Keane provide two of the attacking options. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Of course, Jon Walters can be deployed up front but O’Neill has preferred to use the Stoke City forward out wide during his time in charge.

There’s also the option to stick James McClean up top, although Whelan doesn’t see the winger being the right man for the job.

“I don’t see James as a centre forward,” Whelan admitted.

“He’s one of these lads who wants to be on the wing to run around. If Shane Long gets injured you’ve also got Jon Walters which would help. He’s the one for me that would go up there but hopefully Shane won’t be injured and he can go through the competition because he’s in a good run of form.”

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It all means there’s a lot of expectation falling on the shoulders of Long. The Tipperary native is coming off the back of a career best season with Southampton, and Whelan believes he is primed to take the tournament by storm.

“The last six months of the season when he started playing well and scoring goals, Liverpool are supposed to be looking at him, then Tottenham are supposed to be looking at him and then he’s supposed to be offered a new five-year contract and this is all going into a major tournament.

Manager Martin O'Neill The squad depart for France this afternoon. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“If he does well at this major tournament then there’s going to be a lot more interest in him. It’s a big one for him but we also need him in form. We need him to lead that line and lead it well.

“He’s come on leaps and bounds. It’s one when he was at Reading you’re thinking he’s alright, he’s quick but now he’s brought a lot more to his game. He gets in and around, he’s strong, little chances like last night when he laid it on for the goal, he’s starting to see things a lot more.”

With the clash with Sweden next Monday fast approaching, the excitement levels are building.

While there is a genuine air of optimism heading to France, Whelan – who featured at the 1988 European Championships – says the mood in the camp is vastly different to four years ago under Giovanni Trapattoni.

“This time is, everyone is optimistic about it,” the RTÉ commentator said.

“We learned a bad lesson from four years ago, I do not think it will happen again and as I said if we do lose the three games it won’t be because we weren’t trying or look like it.”

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