Thursday 14 December 2017

Ireland will win because O'Neill and his players will fight

Austria boss Marcel Koller. Photo: Reuters
Austria boss Marcel Koller. Photo: Reuters

I've said for many years that Ireland is blessed with an honesty and hunger in its footballers that is unusual and should be cherished.

Even in the last few weeks, I've seen a couple of great examples of other nations struggling with the concept of working towards a common purpose.

I was truly astonished to read that Andres Ulmer, a decent full-back for Austria and first-choice for Marcel Koller against Ireland if he was available, has decided to get married instead.

Ulmer and his fiancé can hardly have missed the fact that Ireland and Austria will be playing a match on Sunday at the Aviva.

I cannot believe that they could not have planned around the game if the will was there to do it.

Contrast that with the FAI's open day at the Aviva on Wednesday. I wasn't there but 28 players were and that includes lads who have no chance of playing.

In that category, you have young men on the way up and other players who have been around the squad for a long time but can only hope for the odd friendly game.

Yet they still come. They still turn up. That's a great thing and should never be undersold or underestimated.

This passion for the green shirt is the key to many things and the main reason I think Ireland will beat Austria.

I've been puzzled over Martin O'Neill's approach to his job since he played a string of friendly games and then picked a team for competitive action which bore no resemblance to any of the selections he made in the build-up to his first competitive game away to Armenia.

To this day, he chops and changes and this goes against a fundamental principle of the game. Consistency is the goal of every player and manager and yet O'Neill has never achieved it.

Ireland have played poorly in many competitive games under his watch and yet the results speak for themselves and Ireland face Austria knowing that a win would send many Irish fans to queue for Russian visas.

I think he believes, as I do, that there is not much to choose between all of the 28 players in his extended squad.

Our creativity and dynamism comes from Wes Hoolahan, Robbie Brady, James McClean and of course Seamus Coleman, Ireland's best player.

But there is an evenness of quality throughout the rest of the squad which almost allows him not to be concerned about the faces that fill the rest of his team.

That's an exaggeration because there will always be things which managers will look for which don't have anything to do with talent and will inform their team selection,

Talent is no use if it doesn't come with heart, commitment, energy and discipline and every one of those 28 lads have those qualities hard-wired.

The other example I had in mind was Gareth Soutgate's decision to bring his players on a military assault course for 'bonding'.

It was utter madness and nothing more than a stunt to make Southgate look as if he has the kind of grit which they hired Sam Allardyce to bring to the party.

I'm sorry, but if players don't have those qualities in their locker from the start, sending them to wallow in mud and climb over tall obstacles won't give it them.

We know from last summer that England were gutless against Iceland. Put simply, if you're not born with the will to fight for something in life, it cannot be learned.

O'Neill has the luxury of hunger on tap. Ireland has a stormy relationship with its senior football team but behind it all, every fan wants the best for them and every player wants to give of his best for the supporters.

On Sunday, O'Neill will put out a team ready to fight against Austria, an overhyped team that I don't rate and I'm confident Ireland will win.

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