Martin O’Neill was a happy man after seeing his depleted Republic of Ireland side bounce back from their horror show in Wales with a spirited 1-1 draw in Poland.
Ireland boss O’Neill, who had spent the day before the game once again having to defend his assistant Roy Keane, was without many of his key players in Wroclaw, but looked on as debutant Aiden O’Brien headed his team to within three minutes of victory before they were pegged back by substitute Mateusz Klich.
If there was disappointment that they had not managed to see the game out, there was also satisfaction at a significant response to a dreadful night in Cardiff ahead of next month’s Nations League fixtures against Denmark and the Welsh in Dublin.
O’Neill said: “We needed that. We are judged on performances and results. The players responded brilliantly.
“We’re really disappointed not to have won, which would have been great. We will take a great deal of confidence from that. It will help morale also ahead of two big games next month.”
The absence of Declan Rice and Harry Arter for very different reasons was compounded by that of Seamus Coleman, Stephen Ward, Robbie Brady, James McCarthy, James McClean, Shane Long and Jonathan Walters among others.
However, O’Neill’s under-studies – Millwall striker O’Brien was handed a debut and there were first full starts for club-mate Shaun Williams and Sheffield United defender Enda Stevens – were well organised and committed.
They took the lead eight minutes into the second half when the impressive Callum O’Dowda curled a cross into the box for O’Brien, who had lost his marker to mark his first appearance with a goal.
O’Neill said: “I thought Aiden O’Brien was terrific for a debut. We knew what we’d get in terms of effort from him. He doesn’t always play for Millwall, but when he does, he gives you everything.
“He hasn’t played centre-forward for a long time – he plays left midfield. But he attempted to hold it up for us and gave us strength and brought others in.”
O’Brien’s goal sparked a response from the Poles, for whom skipper Robert Lewandowski was left waiting for his 100th cap, and they got their reward at the death when Klich finally found a way through the massed ranks of green shirts to beat keeper Darren Randolph with a neat finish.
Poland boss Jerzy Brzeczek also used the game to blood a series of new internationals, but admitted they had not been able to find the same rhythm they had in drawing 1-1 in Bologna on Friday evening.
He said: “We didn’t have the same chances as we did against Italy. We simply lacked players who could speed up the ball and speed up the game.
“We drew attention to it during the break. The second half was important for development of this team and we have used the game well. This is a young team and we are only at the start.”
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