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5 winners and losers after Ireland secure Euro 2016 play-off berth

It was a mixed week for the Boys in Green.

The starting XI in Poland last night.
The starting XI in Poland last night.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

FROM THE DAZZLING high came the crushing low. 

The undiluted elation of Thursday evening was quickly followed by defeat in Warsaw but all is not lost for Ireland in their quest to qualify for Euro 2016.

Martin O’Neill and his players will discover their play-off fate on Sunday when the draw is made and they’ll then reconvene in a month’s time for a seismic couple of days.

Here, we look at the winners and losers from a week of mixed fortunes for the Boys in Green.

Winners

Darren Randolph

Ireland’s unlikely hero on Thursday as he came off the bench to produce a heroic performance between the posts on what was his first competitive appearance. The Wicklow-born goalkeeper appeared to be behind both Shay Given and David Forde in the pecking order but has now emerged as a genuine contender for the number one jersey.

He was excellent again in Warsaw with a display that further enhanced his credentials.

Shane Long

His involvement in last night’s game was curtailed by injury but it was a week Shane Long will never forget. His goal against the world champions will forever be etched into Irish footballing folklore but, just as importantly, the Southampton striker showed his worth to the manager and silenced the critics once and for all.

If his match-winning cameo appearance against Germany didn’t provide enough evidence, Long’s pace and industry caused Poland further problems and ultimately won Ireland’s penalty.

Shane Long celebrates scoring his sides first goal Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

It remains to be seen how long he’ll be sidelined for but his absence would now be a cruel blow to Ireland’s play-off chances.

Jon Walters

Jon Walters didn’t show us anything we didn’t already know but there isn’t a player in the squad who works as hard for the cause as the Stoke forward. Against Germany in Dublin, he hassled and hurried the visitors at every possible opportunity and when Ireland had their noses in front, provided an exhibition in hold-up play.

His worth to O’Neill and this side cannot be underestimated and a late booking in Warsaw is a significant setback given he will now miss the first leg of the play-off.

James McCarthy

The Everton midfielder has been the subject of widespread criticism for his performances, or lack there of, in a green jersey. McCarthy hasn’t been able to replicate his club form on the international stage but he picked the most opportune moment to produce his most imposing display on Thursday night.

Indeed, he was forced to work tirelessly without the ball but he got in amongst the German midfielder. He let himself be known and when on the ball, more often than not picked the right pass and retained possession.

For that alone, he deserves to be included in this category but he now needs to do that every game – and unfortunately he found the going far tougher in Poland and was unable to stamp his mark on proceedings.

Wes Hoolahan

Only Wes Hoolahan and Martin O’Neill can be sure of the circumstances surrounding his omission from the starting line-up in Warsaw but it was hardly surprising Ireland lacked creativity and inventiveness with the Norwich man sitting on the bench.

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Wes Hoolahan and Marco Reus Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

For a team that needed to go away from home and score goals, O’Neill’s XI patently lacked any sort of attacking threat and they ultimately paid the price. Hoolahan’s man-of-the-match performance during the week was another reminder of his importance to this side and without him, there is no sense of urgency or imagination.

O’Neill insisted afterwards that no one player can make a difference to a team but judging by the two performances – one with Hoolahan and the other without him in the side – there is weight for a counterargument.

Losers

Robbie Keane

Once again, Keane was left on the bench for both games and only an injury to Long in Poland gave him an opportunity. The LA Galaxy striker struggled, unsurprisingly, to adapt to the game and it’s frenetic pace and now surely his role – if he prolongs his international career any longer – is as a bit-part sub.

Glenn Whelan

Suspended for the first game and out-of-his depth in Warsaw. Consistently bypassed and overrun in midfield and although Jeff Hendrick offers a far more dynamic option, O’Neill will continue to persist with Whelan in the engine room.

To be fair, he was influential in the win over Georgia in Dublin but those performances are all too rare and his absence against Germany showed he is not missed.

Shay Given

Returned to the international fold to regain the number one jersey but his grip on it is slipping again. The 39-year-old has played just two first-team matches this season and even for a goalkeeper, it shows.

Shay Given is stretchered off as Martin O'Neill has a word with him Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Lasted 44 minutes on Thursday but the Stoke shot stopper was constantly stretching throughout the first-half while his distribution isn’t what it used to be. With Randolph deputising ably, it may be time for Given to hang up the international gloves once and for all.

John O’Shea

Marshalled the troops brilliantly against the potent German forward line but once again exposed in Warsaw. It may seem harsh to level such criticism at O’Shea but he clearly went out with the intention to ruffle Robert Lewandowski’s feathers and it didn’t work.

He was off the pace from the outset and was caught wanting more often than not with his late dismissal capping off a forgettable night for the skipper. His absence will be felt in the next game but should Clark or Wilson be fit, it might not be as much of a blow as many are making it out to be.

James McClean

Given his chance on Sunday after sitting out the indelible win over Germany through suspension but never really got going. Cut a frustrated figure for much of the game and it was no surprise he was withdrawn in the second-half.

O’Neill has other options down the left and the impact of Aiden McGeady, albeit brief, from the substitutes bench told its own story. In the few minutes on the pitch, McGeady caused more problems than McClean managed in his 73.

We’re no closer to finding out if the Boys in Green will be part of the party in France next June but after another week of fluctuating fortunes, we’re finally about to find out.

Onwards and upwards and here’s hoping for a kind draw.

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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