Republic of Ireland: 4 things we learned from the international break

With the Republic of Ireland collecting disappointing results against Georgia and Serbia, their World Cup hopes are now on the line.

With club football resuming this weekend following the international break, Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill won’t have any such distraction to divert his focus away from World Cup qualification.

Having drawn 1-1 against minnows Georgia, and losing by a goal to nil on home turf against Serbia, a trip to Russia next summer now seems to be an unlikely prospect for the Boys in Green.

Victories over Moldova and Wales are now necessary for Ireland to finish in second place in Group D, with many already ruling out the possibility.

Ireland’s form in 2017 has been nothing short of poor, claiming a solitary victory over Uruguay in the space of seven matches.

However, it would seem unfair to suggest that there were no positive signs from the Irish in their last two games, and Martin O’Neill would do well to capitalise on some of the more encouraging messages portrayed by the displays.

Likewise, there are plenty of aspects of their game that should be eradicated.

  1. 1 No long balls, possession is key

    A long-standing criticism of the Irish team, and one that can be used again here.

    Ireland's tendency to rely on long balls to find their target men up front seldom seems to exploit the defence of any opposition, even when the opposition assumes the form of a Georgian team that is ranked 112th in the world.

    Ireland were outplayed in an embarrassing manner against Georgia, securing only 31% of the possession, and chronically failing to string more than a few passes together.

    The only tactic used was to find Shane Long with long passes, which provided no threat. Ireland had grown frustrated by the end of the game, with James McClean resorting to taking long-shots from outside the box to find a winner.

    Ireland's hesitancy to pass the ball was eased with the change of midfield in the Serbia match, with Wes Hoolahan orchestrating a more convincing performance, complete with more intricate passing.

  2. 2 Wes Hoolahan as vital as ever

    Regardless of his age, or that he merely plays second-tier English football, the 35-year-old regularly proves he is one of the most instrumental players in the Irish squad.

    Pundit and former Wales midfielder Robbie Savage recently slammed Ireland for instilling so much faith in the playmaker, whom he considers average.

    However, I see Hoolahan as the primary source of Ireland's creativity in midfield, and he allows others around him, Robbie Brady in particular, to play to their full potential.

    His absence from the Georgia match was evidently a contributing factor to Ireland's inability to penetrate the resolute Georgian defence.

    Despite losing to Serbia, Ireland's performance was visibly more fluid with Hoolahan, as he regularly found Brady and McClean with clever passes, and pressed the Serbians relentlessly while not in possession of the ball.

  3. 3 Midfield diamond is a welcome change of tactics

    Martin O'Neill has come under fire in the past for his reluctance to alter tactics, so the radical change in the midfield layout was a welcome sight against Serbia.

    Ireland have become known for their predictability, and therefore the new dynamic allowed by the new-look team against Serbia meant that they looked instantly more convincing than the team that faced Georgia.

    While playing without traditional wingers may have been a bold move, Stephen Ward and Cyrus Christie showed that they had the potential to provide the team with the required width.

    The concentration of creative players in the middle allowed Ireland to retain more possession of the ball and could prove to be the most effective formation to play in future.

  4. 4 David Meyler cannot go ignored

    Along with Wes Hoolahan, Hull City midfielder David Meyler came into the Serbia match having missed out on a place against Georgia. 

    Playing in a vast array of positions for Ireland in the past, without ever securing a regular starting place, Meyler played a holding midfield role against Serbia, filling the void left by the removal of two players, Harry Arter and Glenn Whelan.

    Intercepting many Serbian moves during the match, Meyler was always in the right place at the right time and was the beginning of many of Ireland's attacking breaks.

    His tenacity and commitment should give Martin O'Neill plenty of positives to think about before the final two matches of the qualifying round.

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Oran Donovan

Footballing fanatic and writer based in Dublin, Ireland. Areas of interest include Irish football, the Premier League, and European competitions. Currently studying Nanoscience, Physics and Chemistry of Advanced Materials in Trinity College Dublin.