Martin O’Neill saw his side begin their Nations League campaign last night with a heavy defeat to Wales.
– Paul Dollery reports from Cardiff
MARTIN O’NEILL DIDN’T need a 4-1 hammering in order for this international window to be classed as a particularly forgettable fortnight for the Republic of Ireland manager.
The trouncing dished out by Wales followed on from the tug-of-war for the services of Declan Rice, the absence of Harry Arter resulting from a spat with Roy Keane, plus an injury crisis that ruled out seven players for the Nations League opener.
This has been a challenging period for the 66-year-old, and certainly not the dawn of a new era he had in mind when renewing his contract back in January.
O’Neill takes his team to Wroclaw for a friendly against Poland on Tuesday, but the focus has already switched to next month’s back-to-back games against Denmark and Wales in Dublin, which will make or break Ireland’s inaugural Nations League campaign.
Goals from Tom Lawrence, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey had the Welsh cruising at half-time last night at Cardiff City Stadium. By the time Shaun Williams helped himself to a consolation goal for Ireland, Connor Roberts had already scored a fourth for the hosts.
“We were second best for pretty well all of the evening,” O’Neill said. “We allowed room for world-class players, and particularly Gareth Bale, to work his magic. The second goal was fantastic, and obviously when you’re two goals down early in the game, it’s a long way back. We’ll learn from that.”
Injuries to James McCarthy, Robbie Brady, Sean Maguire and Scott Hogan ruled that quartet out before O’Neill named his latest squad, but Shane Long, James McClean and Alan Browne later joined the long list of casualties.
Despite having to contend with so many absentees, O’Neill accepted that what Ireland served up just wasn’t good enough: “We were missing some really key players. Fine. This was a really tough evening for us, regardless of whether we had some players missing, and we should do better.”
Ireland’s only victory in their last six outings came in the friendly against USA in June. That dismal form increases the pressure on O’Neill, his management team and players ahead of the fixtures against the Danes and the Welsh on 13 and 16 October respectively.
“It has not diminished my enthusiasm for the job one jot,” said O’Neill in relation to last night’s game. “We have a long, long way to go, and we might have one or two players back for the games in Dublin. We should have a better showing and we should do better.”
Better is surely the only option for O’Neill’s side at this juncture, because on the back of last night’s display it can hardly get much worse.
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