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Sunday 19 November 2017

Christie has a long way to travel to fill Coleman's boots

Cyrus Christie. Pic: Sportsfile
Cyrus Christie. Pic: Sportsfile

Who would be Cyrus Christie, tasked with filling the boots of Ireland's current darling, Seamus Coleman?

It's never easy when you're the understudy, thrust blinking into the spotlight while the main actor lies wounded but if Iceland was an audition, he didn't handle it very well.

It would not be right to judge him on a game which featured a number of very ordinary performances.

Something more fundamental was at play against Iceland which was about a clash of cultures more than one man's effort.

The simplicity of their competence and organisation was glaring and revealing. Remember, this was their 'B' team, as indeed was O'Neill's.

These were footballers brought under cover in all-weather facilities because of the obvious climate complications and coached to a very high standard.

Someone sat down and made a plan. Being a practical race by necessity, they clearly carried out their plan and did not allow the kind of parish pump madness which afflicts everything in Ireland to get in the way.

As a result, they have a generation of footballers, in fact a rolling production line based on Tuesday evening, equipped to head out into Europe where they can earn a good living and then come home to bind together under their flag.

Iceland had a plan and they all obeyed the same basic instruction no matter where they were positioned on the pitch. Get the ball, find the support and move forward.

Lose the ball, funnel back and for want of a better phrase, park the bus.

They are confident in possession, will play a short pass as quickly as a long one and everyone seems to know what to do in either scenario.

It's a stark contrast to Ireland's efforts across both games.

There was no discernible pattern other than to attack down the flanks in a nervous first-half and Iceland coped easily with that. Christie and Robbie Brady often found themselves in narrow channels out wide with nowhere to go. O'Neill had his own explanation for the very ragged first-half performance against Iceland.

"Do you know what, players coming in at this time now, trying to impress? Sometimes it's difficult and sometimes you can be over anxious and you can put a lot of the first half down to that," O'Neill said.

"Trying to do well. Trying to be precise and because you're trying to be that precise, you take that bit longer with the ball and all those things.

"But we changed the side around and some players like Hourihane, trying to get into the game and first time playing with some of those players to like John Egan who I know quite well and I've seen a lot with Brentford, the boys will be nervous for this game, why wouldn't they be?"

Fair enough. But he can hardly use the same explanation for a first-half against Wales which was every bit as disjointed, every bit as aimless as the effort against Iceland.

Christie's introduction against Wales came with Ireland pouring forward against ten men and he did offer a threat.

But his defensive positioning needs a lot of work before anyone would be comfortable with him standing between Darren Randolph and Gareth Bale when Ireland are on the back foot against Wales in Cardiff in the Autumn.

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