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Thursday 14 December 2017

o'neill's chomping at bit for tbilisi test

THOSE that know him well or have played for him before say that Martin O'Neill lights up on match day and that his full range of motivational and tactical powers emerge.

After nine months of aspirational chatter and what can only be described as a downbeat assessment if Ireland's playing resources, a line of inspirational propaganda from O'Neill is overdue.

He will be forgiven its absence if he can take three points from Georgia in Tbilisi tomorrow. Anything less and qualification immediately becomes treacherous.

Germany, Poland and Scotland all have the wherewithal to win in Tbilisi and the chances are that they will. Ireland cannot afford to leak points against a Pot Five team and hope to thrive in the group.

To be brutally honest, O'Neill has often seemed mildly overwhelmed by the job he took on a blaze of publicity and his performance during the week was so low key that it was left to Keane to crank out the passion.

But Keane himself is not one for small talk and his message was as much about his impatience to be under way in Euro 2016 as it was a PR effort for the fans.

O'Neill has never looked completely comfortably in his new job apart, perhaps, from the first few days when he seemed delighted by the response to his and Keane's appointment.

He was clearly unsettled by the melee which always surrounds Roy Keane and from his own words, a tad surprised that neither he nor his sidekick stumbled upon some new and fresh options.

Mark Noble, David McGoldrick and Jack Grealish are perhaps waiting in the wings and will add depth and strength to the squad if they decide to throw in their lot with Ireland.

But for now, O'Neill must deal from the deck which Giovanni Trapattoni played with. That proposition, however, is misleading.

For a start, Trapattoni waited and waited until it was too late to assimilate James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman, Marc Wilson and Wes Hoolahan into his squad.

He never gave the players he had a real chance and locked them into a tactical strait-jacket which hid the talents they possessed, bored the pants off everyone and in the end fell apart under the weight of its own inadequacy.

O'Neill was hired to do something different than Trapattoni and, to be fair, he didn't hesitate when it came to the small wave of young, exciting talent which was developing under the Italian's nose but was largely ignored by him.

An improving McCarthy was quickly identified and promoted as the man to build midfield around. Coleman was acknowledged as the world class player he is and Hoolahan given the freedom to do what he does so well.

Hoolahan has probably been Ireland's best player under O'Neill but there is no guarantee that he will start against Georgia.

O'Neill is a cautious man and there is every chance that he might retreat into 4-4-2 orthodoxy and if necessary, try to grind out the result he and the whole nation want from this game.

If he chooses that route, McCarthy and Glenn Whelan will play in midfield and Robbie Keane and Shane Long will start up front with Hoolahan on the bench.

Two factors will inform his cagey nature. It will be hot and humid in Tbilisi. The mercury topped at 31 degrees today and is expected to be no more than ten lower than that at kick-off time tomorrow.

For once, the Irish weather cooperated during the last week and offered some warm weather training but a balmy day in Malahide is a bit different from the debilitating humidity they experience in this part of the world at this time of the year.

Secondly, O'Neill knows that he will send out a team to meet Georgia with at least one position filled by a player he knows could struggle and with very little defensive cover, particularly in the full-back positions.

Stephen Ward is only finding his feet at his new club Burnley and there were many who felt that his time in an international shirt ended in Poland in 2012.

He is involved because Ireland's production line of full-backs has been stuttering in the last ten years and O'Neill has no choice but to play him.

But every manager back through history has been forced to make these kind of accommodations.

Ireland has never had a squad with all the options

When it comes to the crunch, nobody will argue with O'Neill if he risks Ward, leaves Hoolahan on the bench and takes a backward step from the bright, energetic style everyone wants to see once he delivers the right result.

This game is all about the result.

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