OpinionPaul McGrath

Ireland's moment has arrived

Paul McGrathBy Paul McGrath
Time for O'Neill's Ireland to deliever
Time for O'Neill's Ireland to deliever

This is it! For me, this is the game on which our Euro 2016 fate turns as Poland are the team we have to be ahead of when the group ends in October.

And we won’t be in front of them unless we turn them over in Dublin tonight. So it’s a huge game for everyone, and for manager Martin O’Neill and his sidekick Roy Keane, it’s about getting the selection right.

There are two players I hope he gets on to the pitch straight away.

The first is Wes Hoolahan, who can be our key to unlocking the Polish defence. But does Martin play Hoolahan as a Number 10, behind, most probably, Robbie Keane? If he does, it means going with just one striker in a home game that we have to win.

Would the fans put up with that? He could also play Wes in midfield, spraying the ball forward for Robbie and a partner, who I’d expect to be Shane Long.

However, that would mean dropping either James McCarthy or Glenn Whelan from the centre of midfield and I don’t expect that. He will want that pair as a solid duo in front of his defence, limiting Poland’s ability to break out of what I expect will be a defensive formation to start with anyway.

The other Irish player I want to see right from the off is Jon Walters. Whether he plays up front or on the wing is a tactical call, butI want Walters out there, getting stuck into the Polish team.

He’s a fine player and a very physical competitor. Jon is not afraid to put himself about and I expect our visitors to get stuck in, so we need to meet fire with fire and he’s just the lad to do that, mask or no mask.

What brave players like Walters need is for a packed house tonight to be behind them all the way, so that the referee might be tempted into giving him a 50-50 call or two.

That comes with noise, passion and desire rolling down from the crowd. I remember, in my playing days, often being distracted by the train going by and by all the other little things that made the old ground so different.

Now it is like a space-age stadium, with all the facilities any fan could need — the real credit goes to the IRFU and FAI for building it. But is it a football fortress? No, not yet, we need to work on that!

You cannot say it is our real home, not when teams like Sweden and Austria can get draws there or when Germany or Russia can come and destroy us by embarrassing scorelines.

Under Giovanni Trapattoni and O’Neill, Ireland have been decent away from home in recent seasons, the record of good draws and wins in tough away grounds is there for all to see.

Now Martin has to find that something extra,the little X Factor that will see us start to win three points at home every time.

Though Martin has been our manager since November of 2013, there is a sense that this is the game he has been building up to — a competitive match where he would have to send his team out to get a win.

When presented with away games in Georgia, Germany and Scotland for three of his first four matches, O’Neill would have taken your hand off for four points — which is what he got! So now we go forward and build on that with a win tonight.

That’s the dream and I say it can become a reality if the players realise what is at stake tonight. If it goes pear-shaped, we are looking at preparing for a 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign from which only the Group winners go through.

And for this group of players, it would be a long, long wait for Euro 2020. Many of them will not be wearing the green jersey by then. So they must seize the day and seize the points.