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Saturday 19 August 2017

Mexico clash a chance for the fringe players

O'Neill knows the real test awaits after US friendly

James McClean and Andy Boyle of Republic of Ireland during squad training at NY Red Bulls Training Facility in Whippany, New Jersey, USA. Photo: Sportsfile
James McClean and Andy Boyle of Republic of Ireland during squad training at NY Red Bulls Training Facility in Whippany, New Jersey, USA. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland's national team have honoured their US-based supporters to quite a few visits in the last few years.

And once again, this evening (well, with a kick-off of 1.36am Irish time tomorrow) those expats will take up a chunk of the seats in the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, though the hard-core supporters who know the ways of the Irish side will not expect much in terms of a big win, as the boys in green have failed, in their last five games over here, to treat their American fans to a win.

Martin O'Neill is not as hung up on winning friendly games as some of his predecessors in the job, though.

Beating Mexico in New Jersey this week would give him some brownie points and maybe boost Ireland's standing in the FIFA rankings but it's all about June 11th and Austria's visit to Dublin, not a tussle with Mexico with a side mainly made up of Championship players and debutants.

Only the anoraks recall that Ireland drew with Mexico and the USA and beat South Africa in a 2000 tour of the US, but everyone knows that the competitive games which followed saw the side earn points away to Holland and Portugal which proved to be key in reaching the 2002 World Cup finals.

Ireland assistant Roy Keane and manager Martin O’Neill are pictured in training ahead of tomorrow’s friendly against Mexico. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland assistant Roy Keane and manager Martin O’Neill are pictured in training ahead of tomorrow’s friendly against Mexico. Photo: Sportsfile

Judged

O'Neill's last game in charge of Ireland on US soil ended in a 5-1 defeat, to Portugal, and even though that loss, the heaviest defeat of his reign, could be seen as a blot on an otherwise-impressive copybook, clearly the Ireland boss is not fussed.

"The friendly games don't concern me at all. If that's what we were judged by, we would do exactly what some other nations do - Switzerland and Wales don't play them at all," says O'Neill.

"I you looked at the side that we had playing that night against Portugal, who were actually participating in the World Cup a week later, it doesn't really bother me in that sense. The most important aspect is to get prepared for the game against Austria, which is the be all and end all."

Experiments will be made here in New Jersey: James McClean will captain the side, O'Neill is likely to opt for a three-man defence, lads like Alan Browne and Kevin Long could make their debuts and rookie internationals such as Andy Boyle, John Egan, Conor Hourihane, Daryl Horgan, Colin Doyle and Stephen Gleeson will add to their tally of caps.

"There's probably a fairly decent chance that most of the squad will participate in some aspect," says O'Neill.

"Any minute on the field of play should only be good news for them (Kevin Long and Alan Browne)."

But when it comes to Austria's visit to Dublin, those players will take their caps and retreat to the fringes as the likes of Stephen Ward, Glenn Whelan, Jeff Hendrick, Robbie Brady and Aiden McGeady waltz back into the side.

But there are some small lessons to be learned from this battle with an in-form Mexico side, like trying out a 3-5-2 formation which is forced on O'Neill as he has no recognised left back here in the US.

"There's a fairly decent chance we'll do it, I'd like to see it anyway. We don't have a natural left-back with us at this moment but I still think I'd like to do it," he says.

The loss of Shane Long to injury leaves O'Neill with a striking dilemma for the Austria game so the likes of Daryl Murphy and David McGoldrick can try to utilise the Mexico match to show O'Neill why they should get a rare start in a competitive game.

"Injuries have really curtailed his last couple of years but I think he's got over them now hopefully and we might see the best of him," O'Neill says of McGoldrick.

"We've seen very, very little of Murphy since the start of the competition. He scores the header against Serbia, great. Then, certainly when the international matches come around he seems to be plagued with those injuries, he's one we'll look a bit more carefully."

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