Ireland’s solid performance against Wales in the Aviva last Friday was overshadowed by Séamus Coleman’s unfortunate and brutal injury. The game was tensely fought and Ireland held what has been a high scoring Wales side to a nil all stalemate. The boys and fans in green however will have left the stadium with nothing but a feeling of upset or discomfort witnessing Coleman’s leg break. John O Shea said afterwards that he was confident that Coleman would come back ‘stronger’ after a long injury lay off. However, it’s hard to escape the feeling that this might be a career ending injury, especially upon viewing the ugly position of Séamus Coleman’s leg immediately after the foul. Cyrus Christie has big shoes to fill over the next couple of months.
The game itself was kept tight, and the Irish defensive unit kept Welsh all star Gareth Bale under wraps effectively. Gareth Bale is undeniably one of the top players in the game at the moment. To be fair to Glen Whelan, David Meyler, Séamus Coleman and John O Shea, they managed to rip the ball from Gareth Bale’s feet all night long. The result was that Gareth Bale was reduced to a mere two noticeable attempts on goal. This is more than what most people manage to do at any level in the game, and it bodes well for a middle and a back four that is comprised mainly of players in the bottom half of the Premier League in England, as well as the English Championship. Having said that, however, Bale did seem to have a quiet game for his standards. His free kick taking was off the mark on the rare occasion he was given an opportunity. Bale took a shot at the closing stage of the game that had a desperate edge to it and the action exemplified the frustration that Wales felt as they struggled to break Ireland down.
There are positives and negatives that about Friday night’s result. Many will feel that Ireland missed an opportunity when Wales were reduced to ten men. Yet others who were aware that nine of Ireland’s first choice players were out before this game, would’ve happily taken a point, regardless of Roy Keane’s brash comments that journalists were sadly mistaken and think that Ireland would aim for the draw. Ireland did miss the likes of James McCarthy, Wes Hoolahan, and Robbie Brady for most of the game. Until the introduction of Aiden McGeady, Ireland were reduced to hoofing the ball in Shane Long’s direction, in the hope that he would repeat the heroics he pulled off against Germany. The truth is that the significance of this result will become clearer as the qualification race reaches its endgame.
A quick look at the fixture list will tell you that Ireland might have an opportunity to regain top spot next time out. Ireland play Austria at home with what should be a much healthier squad than Martin O’Neill had to deal with for Friday’s game. Wales go away to Serbia, who are currently group leaders on a marginally better goal difference. If the Welsh are on their game, and Ireland play to their potential, the men in green could capitalise on a Serbian slip up. All in all a solid home performance as a unit is something Martin O’Neill’s men can be proud of in the absence of their attacking and creative talents on the night. The test now will be matching the solid defence with some goal scoring prowess against the weaker teams in the group to ensure qualification.
Conor Lynott Sports Editor