It’s time to shake it up a bit
Promising signs from Sofia draw but Brady, Long and Coleman should face Finns
I’D like to see Stephen Kenny shake up things a little when he picks his Irish team to play Finland this evening. Not because I’ve any quibble with how the lads played out in Sofia on Thursday night.
In fact, I thought the lads deserved to win the match. But you must remember that we are playing these internationals in what is effectively pre-season.
None of our players have yet played a single competitive minute for their clubs this season.
Asking the same XI to go for 90 minutes in Sofia on Thursday night, travel home on Friday morning, and play again this evening is demanding a lot of them.
I could see a lot of leggy players around the hour mark against Bulgaria and if I were Stephen I’d be freshening the side up from the off.
With who, I hear you say? Well, Robbie Brady for one. Robbie is one of the Irish players best suited to the style of game the new boss wants to impart – and he played really well when coming in on Thursday.
And let it be noted that it was Robbie’s outswinging corner – a beautifully delivered set-piece – that led to our equaliser.
Then there’s Shane Long, who is the sort of centre-forward who I hated playing against.
He’s a bully of an opponent, he never backs down and always comes looking for more – it must be that Tipperary hurling background that puts the fight and will to win in him.
Maybe Shane has lost that edge to his pace, but he can still make life very difficult for the Finnish defenders in this one.
And he can do it for an hour or more – and then bring on a rested Adam Idah to continue learning his trade at international level.
Adam was one of the real bright spots of the night for me and he’ll improve from the experience of starting his first international. There’s also a case for giving Seamus Coleman a shot at rightback.
Did Matt Doherty do enough in Bulgaria to say that the place is his now? No he didn’t, but that wasn’t all his fault. But, maybe, Seamus deserves a run in the team this evening. James M cClean is another who will be bursting to play.
Aaron Connolly is now a real rival for the wide left berth on this Irish team. He played really well out in Sofia, and with a little more luck, might well have scored or created a goal for the Boys in Green.
But McClean would bring great energy to the cause. I was almost about to write that, as a big fan favourite, he would lift the crowd coming on.
But that won’t be happening in the strange times we live in. Yet like the deposed skipper, James has a bit to do now – and I believe that if he started or got on, the Stoke City player would be ready to make a statement.
Whatever team Stephen goes with, it’s vital that we win this game.
Firstly, we need the FIFA and UEFA ranking points for World Cup seeding purposes and, secondly, because a victory would turn our group into a shoot-out between Wales and ourselves.
With the group winner having a shot at a World Cup play-off place.
From what I saw of Bulgaria on Thursday, they are not going to win the group, and if the Finns lose tonight, they have lost two games already and that’s them out of the running.
Leaving Ryan Giggs’ team and ours to sort it out. Looking back on Thursday, John Egan and Shane Duffy will not be happy with the Bulgarian goal.
They were like the Red Sea parting to allow the through ball. There isn’t a good centre-half alive to whom it hasn’t happened.
I know I was there many a time, it’s a horrible feeling for a centre-half to see a player in the other coloured shirt running between you and your defensive partner.
You lose your mate for only a split-second, yet that’s all it takes for a goal to be scored at this level. But you still feel sick as a dog afterwards.
No wonder Duffy was up for those late corners, determined to atone for his mistake. Hopefully the lads will learn from it and communicate better so that is doesn’t happy again.
They’ll have to, because if Ireland qualify for the European Championship – we’ll have to face Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich and Poland.
Imagine him ghosting between our defenders like that! It would be a guaranteed goal every time. And if we were to progress further in the tournament, well there would be any one of Antoine Griezmann (France), Timo Werner (Germany) and Harry Kane (England) waiting for us – centre-forwards who do not miss.
That is the level we want to get to. However if Bulgaria can open our defence like that, and have such room to finish, well then we’ve work to do on the training ground, a lot of it.
I’m often delighted to be asked to talk to a young player who has maybe got a call-up to the Irish senior squad – or into one of our under-age set-ups.
Mostly my advice falls into two categories. Something that would be specific to them and then there are the words I say to all of them.
“Congratulations on being selected as one of the best 23 footballers in Ireland.
Now try to win a place in the best 11 and start a match for Ireland. “But when you do start a match for Ireland, remember that the opposition are the best 11 players that country can put out on the pitch. So they are good too.
“And if it is a really big football country like Spain, Italy or France, remember that means they are seriously top-notch players.
“You can’t afford a single mistake. If you are a forward, it might mean missing the only decent chance we get in the game. “If you are a defender it will mean the concession of a goal – nothing surer.”
That’s my long-winded way of describing international football and the difference between it and what you do for your club every weekend.
I loved watching the lads pass the ball about in Sofia, we looked very comfortable at times. Kenny will take great heart from the fact that it was our first match with the lads trying something different and it went well for long spells.
But there was slack passing that will be punished by better opponents than Bulgaria. Time to absorb the lessons and be a bit better tonight. And get the win.