OpinionPaul McGrath

Paul McGrath: It will be hard for Ireland to get valuable draw on Friday

Paul McGrathBy Sunday World
Paul expects Roy Keane and Martin O'Neill to be offered new contracts
Paul expects Roy Keane and Martin O'Neill to be offered new contracts

So it all comes down to this ­— two games to send the country into raptures, and have us breaking out our French phrase books in anticipation of a great summer of 2016.

Or two games where it will all go pear-shaped and Ireland will join the likes of Holland, Scotland, Bulgaria, Greece and either Sweden or Denmark in missing the big party next summer.

Bosnia topped their qualifying group on the way to Brazil last year and in the two tournaments before that were only beaten in play-offs, by Portugal each time.

Remember Portugal have Cristiano Ronaldo, and we don’t! We don’t have a player with that touch of magic who can unlock the finest international defences.

Nor will we have John O’Shea or Jon Walters for the first leg in Zenica on Friday. It’s a massive blow to be without the pair of them as they have been excellent all through qualifying.

And another leader of the squad will be missing too in goalkeeper Shay Given.

I don’t know if Shay would actually have played against the Bosnians, but not having him with the group is something Martin O’Neill could have done without as he goes into the games that will define his tenure as Ireland boss.

Shay is one of those experienced players who would set the tone in training and at team meetings. He’ll be missed over the next ten days.

I expect Martin and Roy Keane, and their management group, to be offered new contracts to stay for the 2018 World Cup campaign, so they are not working for their jobs this week.

But still, the Irish football public will want to see their side play at a good level in these two games, both in terms of being defensively organised and being able to have a go in attack.

Friday’s first leg is about getting that away goal. A 1-1 draw would be heaven. It would force the Bosnians to come to Dublin and attack us a week tomorrow.

And every minute that might skip by in the Aviva Stadium at 0-0 would ramp up the pressure on Bosnia. They would be the team going out of Euro 2016.

I expect Martin to try to bag a goal on Friday and play a more attacking formation than he would do if this game was just another qualifier.

But he will be equally mindful of the fact that, without O’Shea, Ireland’s central defence will consist of two of three players, Marc Wilson, Ciaran Clark and Richard Keogh, none of whom have played together a lot.

The manager has to try to give them plenty of protection in Zenica because there will undoubtedly be times when Ireland will be forced backwards and have to cling on.

Without so many big players on Friday, it is going to be hard for Ireland to get the draw that would be so valuable.

Even a 2-1 defeat would leave things nicely balanced for the second leg when the two suspended lads can return.

It’s going to take one of the great Irish performances to get the tie back to Dublin with Ireland in the driving seat.

But if we’ve beaten the World Champions in the last month, then no team should frighten Ireland.

I’m looking to James McCarthy to do as he did against Germany, to dominate his area and insist that Ireland are going to get something out of this game.