OpinionJohn Aldridge

I couldn't believe Shane Long's name wasn't on the team sheet

Shane Long would have gotten on the end of many of the crosses into the box
Shane Long would have gotten on the end of many of the crosses into the box

I couldn’t believe it when the Ireland team was announced on Saturday and Shane Long’s name was not on that list.

This is not a criticism of Daryl Murphy in any way, but Shane is a Premier League striker who has a but of pace and he will get you a goal when you need it most, so I was very surprised when Martin opted to leave him off the bench.
The unfortunate events involving Robbie Keane’s cousins in the build-up to this game made the call for Long to start even stronger, but the manager and his staff must have had their reasons for the call.
Even though we took a lead in the first half through Jon Walters, this was a game that was crying out for a burst of pace and a sparkling finish from Long.
Ireland got into some great positions with Seamus Coleman down the right flank and while his final ball wasn’t good enough, I wondered whether the movement and intelligence Long shows might have allowed the Southampton man to finish off some of those half chances.
I wonder what Long needs to do to get a decent run in the Ireland side because while Keane has been a magnificent forward for the country over the last 17 years, we need to look beyond Robbie at some point and I’d like to think Shane will be the man to take his place.
On this evidence, Ireland’s management team may not share that sentiment, but the forward line is not the only problem that is undermining the efforts of O’Neill and his assistant Roy Keane.
The midfield duo of James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan were doing little more than shielding the back four and we need someone in that midfield engine room to offer a little more invention and dynamism.
While Robbie Brady’s set-pieces offered some threat, you wonder where the goals are going to come from in the post Robbie Keane era. You need more than just a striker to score goals and the invention in this Ireland team is a little lacking.
The killer blow for us was conceding that goal at the start of the second half. We had all the momentum at that point and then it was swiped away from us with what was a lucky goal.
I suppose you have to say our goal was fortunate as well as Jon Walters was probably offside as he tapped in from close range, but you have to make the most of those kind of breaks and we didn’t do that.
In the end, the fair result was a draw as neither team did enough to win the game and not for the first time, we were left wondering when the next great win for the Irish team will come in a game that matters.
After this latest disappointing result, you probably don’t want me to remind you that 25 years ago this week, a fantastic Ireland team were out in Italy playing in the World Cup finals.
I was proud to be a part of a team that featured players from some of the top clubs in English football and you look at the players O’Neill has to select from now and the quality is nowhere near what it used to be.
Ireland are sliding down the rankings and that will make our hopes of qualifying for future tournaments difficult, so it is a worrying time for the future of our national team.
However, let’s not give up all hope just yet. I know it’s hard to be upbeat and we all felt deflated watching that game yesterday, but we can still get a couple of spectacular results in our final four games and we really need to do that now.
We have to make sure we beat Georgia and Gibraltar in our next two matches and then it will all come down to the big games against Germany in Dublin Poland away in the last round of fixtures.
It may be hard to see Ireland getting into a top three position and securing a play-off place for Euro 2016, but I would rather be the eternal optimist rather than wade into the players with criticism after a poor result.