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ron-man show We can find game-plan to stop Ronaldo, insists Irish star Josh Cullen

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Ireland's Josh Cullen at the announcement of Jigsaw as the official Charity Partner of the FAI afterstaff chose Ireland’s leading youth mental health charity as their preferred choice to work with for the next two years. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ireland's Josh Cullen at the announcement of Jigsaw as the official Charity Partner of the FAI afterstaff chose Ireland’s leading youth mental health charity as their preferred choice to work with for the next two years. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ireland's Josh Cullen at the announcement of Jigsaw as the official Charity Partner of the FAI afterstaff chose Ireland’s leading youth mental health charity as their preferred choice to work with for the next two years. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Josh Cullen insists the best way to defend against Cristiano Ronaldo is to stop the players who put in the crosses and avoid an aerial battle with the Manchester United star.

The Anderlecht midfielder was part of the Irish side distraught to concede twice in the dying stages in Faro in September just as it looked like Stephen Kenny’s team were about to pull off a famous victory.

Post-match analysis centred around how Ronaldo wriggled free to score twice with his head late on, and Cullen believes that the 36-year-old is so good around the box that the main priority for Thursday’s rematch in Dublin has to be starving the record-breaking goalscorer of service as opposed to figuring out how to get there first when deliveries are dispatched.

“It’s probably trying to cut the supply to him a bit better,” says Cullen, reflecting on the heartbreak in the Algarve.

“I don’t think you can really say anything about anyone trying to beat him in the air. That’s a very hard thing to do so as a team we just have to try and cut off the supply to him as best we can. I’m sure that the manager and coaches that we have will come up with a solid game-plan to do that.

“They have world-class players all over the pitch. Of course, we have to step up and perform on the night or we will get punished. I think it goes without saying that we have to be at the top of our game Thursday night.”

The game will have implications for the future of Stephen Kenny, although Cullen says any decision around the manager’s future should be straightforward with the West Ham academy product certain that his retention would be the popular call in the dressing-room.

FAI board members are set to make a call on Kenny’s long term future in the World Cup campaign review that will follow this week’s double-header with Ireland travelling to play Luxembourg on Sunday after their showdown with the top seeds.

October’s victories have put Kenny in a strong position and there’s a feeling that he just needs to avoid a disaster in Luxembourg on Sunday to be safe, although his case would naturally be strengthened by a strong showing against Portugal in front of a full house.

Players are unlikely to offer anything other than an endorsement when asked in a press conference, but Cullen embraced a question on Kenny’s status by giving a full response around his approach which he feels would reflect a dressing-room view.

“For me, 100 per cent,” said Cullen, when asked if the FAI should back their man.

“I think as I mentioned before the progression that the team has shown over the last year or so, working together has been really enjoyable, I probably speak on behalf of all of the lads that we’re fully behind the manager and believe in what he’s trying to do.

“We’re enjoying the style of football we’re playing and we’re starting to see the rewards results-wise, from the performances we’ve been putting in.

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“For me, it’s a pretty straightforward answer, yeah 100 per cent, I want the manager to stay.

“It goes without saying that it is very important to sign off in the best fashion we can. Every game we get to pull on the jersey for our country is a huge honour and we want to finish with two strong performances and finish the group with as many points as we can.

“We started the group too slowly. Gave ourselves too much work to try and catch up but, as I mentioned before, it is a transitional period for the squad and I think we can definitely take a lot of positives from the games recently. I think that will stand us in good stead for the future campaigns coming up.”

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