Martin O’Neill has a formation conundrum

icon irelandvan14 November ~ Ever since Roy Keane was appointed as Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill’s assistant, international breaks have provided an opportunity for his views on a variety of issues to be carried by the country’s media. Such was the level of interest when he came into the job that a separate press conference to O’Neill’s was held and it was carried live by national station TV3. One might have been forgiven for thinking, however, that the brouhaha during the October break – which coincided with the launch of his second autobiography – would have signalled a levelling-off in such coverage.

O’Neill was asked in October if Keane’s book was a distraction, but his reply that “there’s always something” when it comes to Keane has been proven this time round. On Wednesday night, there was “an incident” at the Irish team base in Portmarnock, Co Dublin – reports vary but it’s believed that a fan wanted Keane to sign a copy of his book, which may then have been thrown at him when he refused. The man was taken to hospital but the FAI released a statement saying that it was Keane who had called the police, while O’Neill stated in a video that Keane had his, and the association’s, full support.

That episode did at least have the effect of deflecting from what was developing into the hot topic, that of Scottish-born Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy playing against Scotland. McCarthy’s injury-enforced withdrawal will now mean that McGeady has exclusivity on any hostility coming from the Celtic Park stands, something which was seemingly endorsed by Gordon McQueen. The former Manchester United midfielder was critical of the pair, yet in practically the same breath lionised the English-born Bob Wilson and Bruce Rioch for playing for Scotland as “they felt Scottish”.

McCarthy’s absence, and that of Glenn Whelan, leaves O’Neill with a conundrum as to who to play in midfield. Hull City’s Stephen Quinn, who played against Germany, should continue, while Jeff Hendrick of Derby County and Everton’s Darron Gibson came off the bench in Gelsenkirchen and both could play if O’Neill decides to go with a 4-5-1. If that is the case one of captain Robbie Keane, McGeady, Jon Walters or James McClean would miss out.

Poland’s win over Germany last month means that, theoretically, the topping of the group may not be a foregone conclusion, but more realistically it makes them firm favourites for second place. Third, and a play-off spot, is the most likely target for these two, so the avoidance of defeat here would be a big boost to Ireland’s hopes, while simultaneously denting the Scots’ aspirations. Denis Hurley

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