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Monday 22 May 2017

O'Neill: Duffy is a blow

Ireland's defensive dilemma a concern

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has bemoaned the loss of Shane Duffy (p), claiming he might have to call on the services of John O’Shea for the crunch clash with Wales on Friday week. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has bemoaned the loss of Shane Duffy (p), claiming he might have to call on the services of John O’Shea for the crunch clash with Wales on Friday week. Photo: Sportsfile

On the face of it, Martin O'Neill has a very big and obvious problem surrounding his defence ten days weeks out from the crunch World Cup battle with Wales but you would never guess.

Rarely in his time with Ireland has O'Neill looked so relaxed, so comfortable with his lot and we need only observe events in the Premier League and Championship to see why.

The mincer that is the management game has been grinding with particular ferocity.

In the last 18 months, Jose Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri have both walked the plank despite delivering the ultimate prize, the Premier League title, for their clubs in the previous season.

It is hard to imagine any worse circumstances than that for managers in the Premier League and O'Neill is old school enough to appreciate that he is in out of the cold at a time when there is a bitter wind blowing through club management.

The Championship is no better and club jobs in both top divisions in England which might have held an attraction once for O'Neill, now seem less appealing. More to the point, O'Neill has a good thing going with Ireland and once he signed on for the road to Russia what had been, up to the then, relentless speculation about his intentions, all but stopped.

His main business for the day revolved around a growing defensive injury list and Ireland's star man of the moment, Aiden McGeady.

With Shane Duffy in plaster, Ciaran Clark injured at the weekend and Richard Keogh nursing a knock, O'Neill is clearly concerned about breaking up what has become his first choice centre-back pairing and the back-up he will need.

"It's a blow of course, to lose Shane Duffy," he said.

"I thought the combination was pretty good despite the mistake when they got caught for the goal just before half-time in the match in Moldova.

Overall

"But overall I've been impressed with Duffy and I think he's improving. I know Chris (Hughton) has been delighted with him at Brighton and I've seen him quite a number of times this season and I'm very happy with him.

"Ciaran has done great. It is going to break up that partnership. I would have assumed that those two, had they come through injury, would have started the game against Wales but it's not going to be the case.

"Ciaran is playing very well of his own, hopefully he's going to be okay. Maybe it's just another replacement for Shane in a like manner, but I'm not so sure we possess that at the moment.

"But we've had combinations before and Richard Keogh has always done very well. If he comes through that (injury) and we also have the experience of John (O'Shea) to call upon.

"I must admit I was pretty disappointed that Shane was injured, considering he injured himself in the 93rd minute.," added O'Neill.

Naturally enough, the Ireland boss devoted plenty of time to talking about Aiden McGeady who is in the form of his life for Preston.

While everyone else doubted the twinkled-toed left-winger, O'Neill stood steadfastly by his man and even if it has taken a long time, the reward is plain to see.

The problem now is that McGeady must step it up to international level, not something he has been able to do with even minimum consistency.

"Aiden has got Premier League feet, there's no doubt at all about it. He'll twist and turn and go past players and there's not that many people in the game can do those things," he said. "But he can frustrate himself, Aiden. He knows, he's a bright lad. He's actually a bright boy. He knows he sometimes just can't help himself. Seriously, he can't help himself.

"He feels, 'I can do this'. And then what will happen is he'll have lost the ball, the team will have attacked from that mistake and it might have caused a few problems.

"And you lose it two or three times as a dribbler, then you lose a bit of confidence from it.

Confidence is clearly flowing in McGeady at the moment and O'Neill feels that being loved at Preston is a huge help.

"Preston are delighted with him. They are really delighted with him. Now, it's up to him for the next couple of months to keep this going at club level and see about his position," he said.

"But the natural talent that he has? He should be playing in the big league," claimed O'Neill.

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