Martin O’Neill will blend the new with the old once again as he draws the curtain on the Republic of Ireland’s 2017-18 season with Saturday’s friendly against the USA.
Veteran defender John O’Shea will make his 118th and last senior appearance for his country as O’Neill takes another look at a new generation of potential internationals.
Here, FPt considers some of the talking points surrounding the game in Dublin.
The last of a generation
The final game of O’Shea’s 17-year senior international career, which was preceded by five among the junior ranks, marks the end of a golden era for Ireland which has seen the veteran defender, Shay Given, Kevin Kilbane, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane all pass the 100-cap mark and Richard Dunne come within 20. Between them, they provided the backbone of the team for more than two decades and the process of replacing them is one which is ongoing.
Decision over Declan
West Ham teenager Declan Rice has made an impressive start to his international career, winning his first cap in Turkey in March and his second against France and looking more than comfortable in distinctly ordinary team performances. He started on the left side of a defensive trio before moving into midfield in Antalya, but was asked to play in a holding role in Paris before dropping deeper later on. The wise money is on him establishing himself at the back eventually, but his calmness on the ball in midfield is something which
has otherwise been in short supply in recent games.
Possession is 9/10 of the law
Both O’Neill and skipper Seamus Coleman admitted after the Turkey and France games that, while their side had defended well enough for long periods, they had simply not been good enough in possession and as a result, had been unable to create meaningful opportunities at the other end. The statistics back that up – Ireland have not scored in three of their last four games and managed only 13 in total in their 10 World Cup qualifiers and two play-off matches, a failing which needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The search for strike-power is one which has taxed O’Neill throughout his near-five-year reign to date with the loss of Keane, who scored 68 goals for his country, one which has been as difficult to mitigate as he anticipated it would be. With only two senior frontmen in the squad this time around – Shane Long, who is nursing a knee problem, and Jonathan Walters – the manager has handed a wild card to Shamrock Rovers’ Graham Burke. The 24-year-old won his first cap as a substitute in France on Monday evening and could get a further chance after being withdrawn from the Rovers squad for their clash with Dundalk.
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