This past week saw Martin O’ Neill and his Republic of Ireland squad fly out to Turkey for some warm weather training and a friendly game against the home nation on Friday. It came at a time when Ireland was suffering a very snowy and cold winter. It came at a time when there was also a frosty atmosphere between Martin O’ Neill and the Irish fans after his meetings with Stoke City about their vacant managerial position. His decision to turn down the Stoke City job was a bit of a suprise to all of us who follow the Irish game closely. A lot of people felt it was his perfect way back into the Premier league and a job that would have given him day to day involvement with players, something he has commented in the past that he had missed. But it was not to be and he walked away from the negotiations with Stoke. We move on now and the qualification for the European Championships in 2020 is next on the agenda but more importantly is the Irish managers challenge to build a side that is capable of making it to the finals.
Going into the game against Turkey it was for a variety of reasons that the Irish manager was without twenty of his players who had been involved in qualifying for the World Cup. O’ Neill decided to go with a three five two system and the last time that was used was away against Mexico but it failed in that particular game. Seamus Coleman returned to the side after a year out of the game with the awful leg break he picked up against Wales. It was the highlight of the night to see the man from Killybegs back in an Irish shirt after what was a career threatening injury. Overall from an Irish point of view the game was awful and the men in green shirts did not even have a shot on target throughout the whole ninety minutes. This is something now that has become a big worry for everyone involved, not only did Ireland not have a shot on target but they created very little. Going forward over the next couple of games it is imperative that boss O’Neill unearths a midfielder who can create chances for the front men. It goes without saying that if you do not create chances you will not win games and when Turkey took the lead early in the second half you just knew the Irish would find it hard to get any sort of result. The one outstanding performance on the night for Ireland was from nineteen year old defender Declan Rice who made his debut and throughout the game showed maturity beyond his young years whilst putting in a superb performance. The West Ham player never looked out of place and although he can play for England he has committed to play for Ireland and is proud to do so.
A defeat away against a Turkish side by one goal to nil was not a disaster but it did throw up some questions. The Irish manager had to go with a lot of youth in this particular game and that has to be the way forward if he is to build anything positive. If Ireland are to qualify for the 2020 European Championships they need to find a plan to score more goals. Over the next couple of games it could be that Ireland will get goals from set pieces but if you look at the bigger picture this will not get you victories on a regular basis. The Denmark game showed us that if don’t create goal scoring opportunities in a game the only outcome will be defeat, and after this game against what can only be described as an average Turkish side the remaining question for the Irish manager is where will he find a creative midfielder. Sadly I do not see anybody coming along on the horizon who can fill this role and that has to be a worry going forward for everyone involved. Next up for Ireland is another away game against France and another chance to experiment with team selection and systems, but ultimately everything needs to be sorted later in the year when the competitive games in the European Nations League start.
By David Meier