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Tuesday 21 November 2017

O'Neill knows there's power in unity

Ireland's pride and togetherness can fill injury gaps against Wales
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and captain Seamus Coleman during a press conference at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and captain Seamus Coleman during a press conference at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown

There was a moment at Martin O'Neill's pre-Wales briefing when his captain Seamus Coleman fielded two or three questions like a master and left the manager with nothing to do but agree.

As he deferred to his skipper, a tiny, beatific smile crept across O'Neill's face, a flicker of the satisfaction he must feel with the development of Coleman since he took over the Ireland job.

It was also a sign of how O'Neill's message now pervades the group and how single-minded everybody is about the way they do things. They take pride in their work.

Who knows what the internal dynamics of the squad are but the sporting imperative is solid as a rock and a great platform from which to face and beat Wales.

Against a background of injuries and suspensions, that is an immensely valuable quality to have even if the theme of doom and gloom has been overplayed all week.

The team O'Neill eventually sends out against Wales tonight will be a familiar one and apart from a centre-half pairing of Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark which is still very much a work in progress and tricksters Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan, O'Neill has most of his assets in place.

Darren Randolph will start between the sticks behind Coleman, Richard Keogh, John O'Shea and Stephen Ward. Midfield is likely to be filled by Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy (fingers crossed), Jeff Hendrick and James McClean with Jon Walters favouring the right side and Shane Long up front.

Brady was always unavailable after his "daft" yellow card in Vienna and O'Neill has never been entirely committed to Hoolahan but their absence creates a significant gap in imagination.

Aiden McGeady is showing the kind of form which suggests he could fill their boots but there is a worry that such an expectation placed on his shoulders would have the opposite impact. That has always been the case in the past. He has never cracked international football with any consistency.

It is not an unlikely scenario that McGeady starts, has a poor game and subsequently, form for Preston evaporates.

Conversely, if he was sprung from the bench with righteous indignation coursing through his veins because he wasn't picked to start in the first place, O'Neill might see a better return.

Return

On balance, the bench would seem to best option and particularly if O'Neill's midfield resources are bolstered by an unlikely return by McCarthy, now more likely to play than not.

"He's improving very quickly which is good news and done some work," said O'Neill.

Any concern that McCarthy might be rusty after a 20-day lay-off? "It wouldn't deter me from selecting him if he hasn't played for two and a half weeks and he feels ok," he said.

"Naturally you would think about the length of time somebody would last. In general, he's usually a very fit lad."

O'Neill is definitely mulling over throwing McGeady in from the start and allowed a glimpse into his thinking when pondered his use in a free role.

"Once you get more used to it in a type of free role, if there's such a thing in this game people in a free role can do a lot defensively even in the very best sides," he said.

"It's something he is trying to learn but if he's capable of going past players, that's got to be a benefit for us.

"All he's got to do is show some form he showed in the early stages of the qualification group in the Euros."

O'Neill has no qualms about playing James McClean from the start despite the emotionally difficult week he has been through following the tragic passing of Ryan McBride.

"James plays with emotions anyway, if anybody can talk about wearing heart on sleeve. That's almost literally," he said.

"I don't have any problem with that whatsoever. James is an emotional character, always has been, and obviously he was devastated because he knew the lad very well and played with him.

"But having gone up to the wake he's fully focused on the game."

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