OpinionKevin Moran

Kevin Moran - It's time for Ireland to win

Keane still has a role to play
Keane still has a role to play

Right lads, it’s time to win. If Ireland are going to qualify directly for Euro 2016, we have to beat Poland at the Aviva Stadium tonight.

No ifs, no buts, no maybes.

Tonight’s the night for Ireland’s footballers to deliver the goods and get our football team back to being where our rugby team is now, a source of great national pride.

There will be a full house, a great atmosphere, this is the game we have been waiting for since that disappointing defeat in Glasgow four months ago.

It is time to make our home pitch the Irish football fortress it was in days of old, when, as Roy Keane joked during the week, “we were afraid of playing at Lansdowne, never mind the opposition”.

Forget about the nice new seats,forget about the burger at half-time, let’s make tonight a proper Irish football night. A night when the Polish players know that, although many of their countrymen and women are very welcome in our country, they are playing an away game in front of supporters determined to steer their team to victory.

And we can win this game, and I believe we will! This is the defining match ofthe Martin O’Neill era,the pivot,the one on which everything turns. Get it right and we can approach the rest of the campaign in confidence; if we lose tonight, we are doomed.

Ireland have six qualifying games left in Group D, four of them in Dublin and one of the away ones is against Gibraltar. You couldn’t ask for a better run of fixtures, but we must grasp the nettle. Poland top the group this morning, but they have still to go to both Frankfurt and Glasgow later in the campaign.

They are a decent team with some good younger players and a world-class striker in Robert Lewandowski, but Poland haven’t actually qualified for a finals since 2006.

When they got a free pass as hosts into Euro 2012, they were eliminated at the group phase. So we are not playing a world power tonight, they are at our level, and we are the home team, we just need to get that momentum going.

If we can inflict a first defeat on our guests this evening, then it is all there for Ireland to go out and take command of their destiny — allowing for the fact that, when it is all is over, Germany will qualify.

The first break O’Neill will be thankful for is that, with the exception of Darron Gibson, everyone has turned up fit and is ready to go.

Secondly, most of his players are doing well with their clubs and their general well-being will have improved further as the traditionalIrish spirit kicked in during last week’s training sessions.

Robbie Keane is scoring goals in the MLS, Daryl Murphy is scoring goals in the English Championship, Shane Long has been on the mark for Southampton and Jon Walters has found the net in the Premier League.

James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman are going well at Everton and Marc Wilson and Glenn Whelan have been strong at Stoke.

Yes, our players will come into this game in a positive frame of mind. Choosing between those strikers is the first big issue for the manager, complicated by the fact that he has the option of playing Wes Hoolahan just behind a lone striker and shunting Walters out to the wing.

I cannot see him leaving Robbie Keane out.Itis too big a match in which we need to score atleast one, and quite probably, two goals. I expect Martin’s team-talk to his men this afternoon will ask his players to do two things at the same time. He won’t want Ireland to go gungho, leaving gaps for Lewandowski to exploit.

Yet the manager will want his players to start strongly, to set a tempo, to let Poland know that they are in for a long evening facing pressure on the ball and Irish commitment to every challenge.

Every minute of the 90 that skids by with nothing much happening is to Poland’s benefit. They will be delighted to leave Dublin with a draw this evening and the nearer they get to full-time with a point in their pocket, the more contented they will grow.

And the more interested they will get in nicking a winner on the break against an Irish team growing more desperate. For all those reasons, but without leaving the back door open, Ireland have to go after this match. If Hoolahan plays, we must look to feed him and allow the Norwich man pick out a pass or two.

Should Martin go with two main strikers, then our wide players must get involved early and sling a few tasty crosses into the Polish penalty area. It will set the tone for the evening.

We will be telling Poland that if you want to get anything out of this match you must concentrate and defend strongly for all of the game because we are here and we want to win. Between Cheltenham and the rugby team, these have been a great few weeks for Irish sport.

We’ve lost Henry Shefflin, a giant of his sport. Wouldn’tit be nice to think that one of our footballteam could step up tonight and make himself a true hero in the Shefflin mode with the goalthat would set Ireland on the road to Euro 2016