Kevin Kilbane: 'We've nothing to fear from Poles'
Irish players need to spark a reaction from quiet Dublin crowd, says Kilbane
GIVEN their status as table-toppers in Ireland's European Championship qualifying group, Poland are entitled to feel pretty confident about their trip to Dublin in 18 days' time.
They've scored 12 goals and conceded none in their last four away games and will have a large support in Lansdowne Road who will expect that run to carry on due to Ireland's dismal home record in competitive games, the last major win in Dublin a painful 13 years ago.
But former Ireland man Kevin Kilbane, who played through trials and traumas in his international career, admits that although that home form has to improve, Martin O'Neill's outfit should not be afraid of the Poles ahead of that March 29th date.
"I keep hearing that we are playing against a top-class side in Poland. They have a lot of pace, power and energy but I don't see anything to fear for the team going into that game, I really don't," Kilbane said on a visit to Lansdowne Road to plug the quarter-final draw for the FAI Junior Cup.
"They have a few quality players - but we have quality players in our side. A lot of those [Polish] players, if they played with our lads at Premier League or Championship level they would be just like one of the ordinary players, a run of the mill player that will come into the side. I don't see any big fear here."
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Kilbane played in Irish teams who managed big results at home to big teams, the Republic side of that era capable of beating major powers like Croatia, Yugoslavia and Holland at home.
And for Kilbane, it's up to the players to spark a reaction from the crowd and not vice versa. "I think if the team can get a good start in the Poland game, can get the crowd behind them that's the only way, it's up to the team to get the supporters behind them rather than the other way around," he lamented.
"Our international record away from home has been very poor, we haven't had any big results against the big nations so that result in Germany lifted everyone but it was another disappointing result and performance in Scotland. That could have something to do with it. It is then up to the players to try and generate a bit of a buzz.
"We've not had the buzz leading up to a home game, have we? I don't think we have had the real excitement building up to a game after a really good result away from home. There still is a bit of a feel around this game that we haven't been performing, I don't think, over the last eight, nine, ten years. Whatever it's been, the performances haven't been good leading into a big home international."
One key decision for O'Neill in the Poland game will be the identity of his goalkeeper. David Forde is the No. 1 with Ireland now but Kilbane feels that Shay Given, back in focus after helping Aston Villa reach the FA Cup semi-final, is in contention. "You know what I think of Shay. He's Villa's best 'keeper, that's first and foremost. I've seen Villa play over the years and I don't think Brad Guzan is in the same league as him," said Kilbane.
"David Forde hasn't done anything wrong, has he? He's played really well when he's got in and he's earned the shirt. I think it would be nice to have Shay pushing him. It's disappointing that Shay has come back and hasn't been able to play but I still feel he's Ireland's best goalkeeper, I do.
"He's 38 next month but he's still proven that he's fit. What's gone against Shay is the negativity around his performances at Euro 2012 but he'd hardy training for six or eight months prior to that. That went against him going into Villa's next season.
"Last season he was back fully fit and he was outstanding for Middlesbrough. Now he's playing outstandingly when he's got into the Villa side, albeit FA Cup matches. I know that I'm biased, but he is class. What he brings to the team in general is a little bit more calmness and stability. In those Cup matches, they've looked better as a team."