Football | 2 months ago
Martin O'Neill's comments on Sean Maguire and Scott Hogan miss the point entirely
Wait and see mindset

All the time in the world.

Shane Long did two positive things of note against Serbia on Tuesday. He won a free-kick on the left-hand side of the Serbian box after selling a nudge very well to the referee and chased a pass up the wing, cut in and fizzed an effort in that Vladimir Stojković did well to tip over the bar.

That was about it. There were some other frees won and a fair few given away, by both Long and Jon Walters.

Branislav Ivanovic told Martin O'Neill that Long and Walters were a "nightmare" to mark and that Ireland offered them the toughest game of their current World Cup qualifying campaign.

Considering that Ivanovic & Co. have come up against the likes of Marc Janko (Austria), Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes (Wales), and Vladimer Dvalishvili (Georgia), the former Chelsea man may have been telling the truth.

An uncomfortable truth for Ireland fans to contend with may be that Long and Walters, who have both struggled for game-time this season, may be the best we've got to offer. I'm not so sure.

Long is a confidence player and he hasn't looked confident since he hauled himself gamely through Euro 2016 without ever looking 100% sharp, or fit. Pumping the ball his way and expecting him to hold on or bring others into the game was a long-winded experiment on hope in the face of glaring futility.

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Walters walloped home a vital equaliser against Austria, in June, but looked a shadow of his snarling self in Tbilisi and Dublin. As he came into the two-game stand a fitness doubt, we will offer him the benefit of one and hope he is back to his best in October.

Right now, Ireland's truth is Brighton centre-back Shane Duffy looks the most likely goalscorer each time Ireland take to the pitch. Duffy thudded his first international goal home against Georgia but had goals rightly ruled out against Austria and Serbia.

The best options for Ireland are two men currently earning their crusts in the Championship - Sean Maguire and Scott Hogan. It is worth pointing out, before one reads O'Neill's comments on using either of them for the final two qualifiers, that Maguire is 23 and Hogan in 25.

After the 1-0 loss to Serbia, O'Neill told reporters:

"While you like some people like Hogan and young Maguire to come into the squad and maybe have a little look round for a while, it’s asking a lot to go in.

"But we’ll see; you never know what the month might bring in terms of players playing a wee bit of extra football at club level, even in the Championship, and maybe just being ready for it."

The two prescient snippets from that O'Neill response are 'we'll see' and 'asking a lot'. While some have taken this as O'Neill considering a change, expect Long and Walters to get the nod for Moldova.

O'Neill is missing the same point Robbie Savage misses when he says Wes Hoolahan is too old to be a go-to man. Neither Hogan nor Maguire are callow youths. Both are confident forwards that back themselves to make a difference.

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Maguire, just like Daryl Horgan, would back himself to go out on the Aviva Stadium pitch and take his man on. Have a go. It's in his nature; his blood.

Hogan knows where the net is and he has a fair few assists to his name in the past two seasons. Balls also stick when played up to him and he is good at bringing other players into the game.

Both will feature in O'Neill's whopper squads and will hopefully make the cut when the Derryman trims his numbers to 25 or 26. Getting onto the pitch to make a difference, though? Don't hold your breath.

We'll see...

While you're here, check out the latest episode of #SportsJOElive where we had Irish legends Shay Given and Clinton Morrison on the couch!


Read more about:

Republic of Ireland, Martin O'Neill, World Cup 2018, Scott Hogan, Sean Maguire