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Tuesday 17 October 2017

Nothing ventured nothing gained by Ireland

Swiss win maintains momentum but did not produce X-factor performance we all wanted

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill on the sideline at the Aviva Stadium on Friday night. Pics: Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill on the sideline at the Aviva Stadium on Friday night. Pics: Sportsfile
Kevin Doyle is stretchered off the field with an ankle injury sustained against Switzerland during the international friendly at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile

The metaphorical bucket of cold water has a long and trusted pedigree in Irish football and on Good Friday, there was a particularly icy tang to the version emptied on the Aviva.

It is hard to remember leaving a game Ireland had just won with such a sense of deflation.

Even those of us at this a long time felt faint stirrings of optimism when O'Neill let it be known in the build-up that the shackles were coming off.

Hindsight tells us that this was down was the stretch in the evenings and the normal human reaction to buds budding and daffodils dancing.

It had nothing to do with O'Neill's football team, unfortunately or the crew of fringe men and young lads queuing up, we hoped, to make a bold statement

O'Neill declared Switzerland and Slovakia an experimental zone for anyone on the edge of the Ireland squad with pretensions or ambitions so we were ready for a show after the tasteful Easter Rising commemoration.

Reality

What we got against the Swiss was a window on reality. In fact, two good splashes of chasteningly chilly liquid washed over the faithful on Friday evening.

The first withered green shoots on contact and the second damped down any thoughts that the squad O'Neill qualified with was overly strong in the first place.

As it happens, the two players we really wanted to see played virtually no part in proceedings.

Kevin Doyle, as game as any player alive, kept running after his shin was opened to the bone by a flailing Swiss blade until his mind told him he better deal with the shriek of pain originating in his leg.

It was a nasty tackle and like many of his team-mates, Timm Klose seemed to have missed the word 'friendly' in the match publicity.

The other man on the edge, Harry Arter, was back in his house in England nursing a tender heel and praying that this extended break from all football will do the trick.

O'Neill can count himself very unlucky indeed that the two players who are right on the margin for France in the summer must be parked until Holland on May 27 and perhaps another, as yet unconfirmed, game in Turner's Cross right on the May 31 UEFA deadline.

Both men have something to offer and in Doyle's case, the need to see him perform well at international level is made all the more urgent by Robbie Keane's personal concern about the knee injury he travelled to Ireland with last week.

There was, perhaps, a light admonishment in O'Neill's comments about Keane's willingness to subject himself to two long-haul flights to be in Ireland for every game.

But you can see the Ireland's captain's point of view. Out of sight is out of mind and he wants to be involved. The next week will tell us whether he is right to be troubled by the fact that his knee is not healing as quickly as he expected.

It could well be that O'Neill will need every moment of the Dutch game and indeed the extra and increasingly mysterious fixture at Turner's Cross during the team's stay in Fota Island.

The confusion around this game is a bit baffling at this stage.

Every request for information about the fixture from either O'Neill or Keane has been swiftly batted towards the FAI and with a certain relish.

How we have arrived at this situation is very odd. Every other country travelling to France has pencilled in a meaningful game between Ireland's encounter with the Dutch at the Aviva and the beginning of the tournament proper.

Are we still failing to prepare and preparing to fail? Judging by O'Neill and Keane, the whole thing is a bit of a giggle.

On the basis of the performance against Switzerland, Ireland will need all the practice they can get.

Aiden McGeady faded in and out of the game to no great effect and often losing possession easily.

He wasn't alone in that sin. It was a big disappointment to see Stephen Quinn and David Meyler flapping about in midfield, losing the ball so easily, apparently always under pressure and clearly sent out to demolish rather than create.

Neither player did his chances of making the final cut any good at all, nor indeed did anyone else apart from Shane Duffy. He had very little to do but what he did, he did very well.

Alan Judge couldn't be faulted for effort but with virtually no pattern to the Ireland performance, he never got the chance to get on the ball in the way he does every week for Brentford. He will get another chance against Slovakia but at this point, he is in that awful limbo known as standby.

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