Player-by-player - how Ireland fared in qualifying campaign
With the Republic of Ireland's qualification campaign coming to a close – and only a play-off standing between them and France next summer – Brendan Crossan looks at how the boys in green performed...
The Lifford man may well have played his last game for Ireland after he was stretchered off with a knee injury before half-time against Germany. Even if he’s fit for next month’s play-offs, O’Neill might stick with Randolph. After ending his international exile, Given won back the number one jersey he virtually owned for 15 years from the unlucky David Forde. He was rarely over-extended in games.
Probably the unluckiest man in this Irish squad. The Galway man kept goal with distinction in the first four qualifiers and even though his form was solid, Shay Given was recalled to the starting line-up for the home game against Poland back in March. And when Given had to retire early against Germany, it was a major surprise when Darren Randolph was called from the bench and not Forde.
A few raised eyebrows when the West Ham United ’keeper was summoned from the bench for the injured Given against Germany but a justified call. Making only his third appearance and his first competitive one, he acquitted himself exceptionally well, making fine saves to deny Jerome Boateng and Ilkay Gundogan in a nerve-jangling second half, and was arguably Ireland’s best player in Warsaw.
Recognised as the team’s best player by some distance. The Everton man has had a strong qualification campaign but hamstring problems forced him to sit out the Gibraltar (a) and Germany (h) games. Apart from the two games against Scotland, the Killybegs native has been one of the driving forces of O’Neill’s team. Turned 27 in Warsaw and defended really well against Lewandowski and co.
Everything changed for the Norwich City man when he scored two fine goals in the November friendly win over USA. Stephen Ward didn’t convince at left-back in the early stages of the campaign and was ousted after the Brady experiment at left-back showed tentative signs of success. Still not a natural defender and had some ropey moments – particularly in the two Poland games – but his set-piece deliveries are a big factor in him winning a starting place in the team.
Uunderstudy to Séamus Coleman, the Derby County defender showed he has the temperament for the rigors of international football. Impressed in the November friendly win over USA before breaking the deadlock against Gibraltar with an audacious dribble. But his finest hour came against the Germans in Dublin. Kept his cool under extraordinary pressure from world-class performers Marco Reus and Mesut Ozil.
The Burnley man started this campaign as Ireland’s first choice left back but by match-day five – the home game against Poland – Robbie Brady had assumed the position. His recall to the starting team for the Germany game in Dublin was a major surprise given that he hasn’t started a league game for his club this season. It remains to be seen if he can nail down the left-back slot when everyone is available.
One of the heartbeats of the team, this could be the Waterford man’s last hurrah at international level. Arguably his most memorable campaign to date. His best games were against Germany, home and away, and at home to Poland. On his 100th cap, he scored a last-gasp equaliser against Germany in Gelsenkirchen. At 34, he mightn’t have the recovery in the legs of five or six years ago but has been a steadying influence. His late sending-off in Warsaw is a body blow ahead of the play-offs.
As soon as Martin O’Neill took over, he made Wilson a first choice central defender. His performances have been decent but he is still susceptible to lapses in concentration and his distribution out of defence can be a bit aimless at times. The Stoke City man has been struck down with a couple of injuries and has a fight on his hands getting back into the team following Richard Keogh’s fine displays in his absence.
The 29-year-old central defender may have just nine international caps but plays with the assurance of someone with 50. One of the plus points from the wreckage of Glasgow last November, he was restored to defence against Germany and had a massive game. Great understanding with John O’Shea and his positional sense was superb. Destined to be a regular for the 2018 World Cup qualification campaign.
The Aston Villa defender has made only two appearances in this campaign – away to Gibraltar and home to Georgia – but looks the real deal and will become a leader of future Irish sides. Although a little rash at times, his reading of the game is excellent and he is a tough tackler. Could take over from O’Shea.
Quickly became first choice under Giovanni Trapattoni, Martin O’Neill saw no reason to change that. A reliable shield in front of Ireland’s back four, Whelan has played seven out of 10 qualification games. He may lack mobility and perhaps doesn’t play high enough up the field, but he rarely gives the ball away. One of his best displays came against Georgia last month, but he picked up a silly booking and missed the historic win over Germany.
A lot is expected of the Everton midfielder but up until the historic win over Germany, he hadn’t delivered. In Whelan’s absence, the 24-year-old seemed to be more at home as the deepest midfielder against the Germans. He hasn’t scored in 31 appearances and although he’s found himself in good scoring positions he clearly lacks confidence. Despite his many introverted displays he remains an undisputed first choice member of O’Neill’s team.
The Derby County man’s shake of the hips, mesmerising dribble and pass for Jonathan Walters to score against Georgia in Dublin was his finest moment in the green jersey. Has evolved into a firm favourite of Martin O’Neill’s and fits the midfield diamond shape. Still a work-in-progress, Hendrick made eight appearances in this campaign but looked a little short against Poland in Warsaw.
A hard-working squad player who filled in at right back and midfield in the early part of the campaign. The Hull City man made four appearances – starting against Germany (a), Gibraltar (h).
Injury, a lack of game-time at Everton and some off-field problems have contributed to his bit-part role in this qualification campaign. His highlight was his steadying influence as a second half substitute in Germany. Hendrick and David Meyler have pushed him down the pecking order.
The Derry man started as first choice under O’Neill but a change of formation midway through the campaign didn’t help his claims for a starting position. His crunching tackle on Poland’s Milik in the second half in Dublin was his best moment. Picked up a needless booking and missed the Germany clash. Had a poor night in Warsaw, but claimed a few assists and two goals in this campaign.
His wonder goal in Georgia was his undoubted highlight and really threatened to become a star of this campaign. But the goals dried up after that. Injuries and a lack of game-time at club level hampered him in the second half of Group D. Has struggled to make the Everton bench this season. He’s only scored five goals in 78 appearances, but could still play an important role in the play-offs.
One of the stars of this campaign. Giovanni Trapattoni never trusted the diminutive playmaker and it took a while for O’Neill to warm to him, but once he threw him in against Poland in March, neither manager nor player looked back. In many ways, he offered the Republic a new way of playing. He shortened the play and the team were more effective for his inclusion. Had many great nights playing ‘in the hole’, but his best display was against the world champions in Dublin.
Surely his last international campaign with the Republic. The country’s record goalscorer (67) began as first choice but, by the end of Group D, he was nudged out of the starting line-up. Scored the quickest hat-trick in European Championship qualification history at home to Gibraltar, and bagged another two against them in September. But his ageing limbs and energy-sapping long-haul flights from LA have blunted his edge.
Earned the unenviable tag of ‘super sub’ in this campaign, starting only two games – Scotland (a) and Poland (a) – but played a major part in the side reaching the play-offs. His highlights were scoring a last-minute equaliser at home to Poland and his career-defining winner against the Germans. Still reservations about his technique and finishing ability but deserved more starts than he got.
The 32-year-old striker doesn’t have a lot of pace or tricks for an attacker but he scored 10-out-of-10 for effort and desire, and for that alone he was Ireland’s most consistent performer in Group D. He scored the winner at home to Georgia and his display against Germany in Dublin was another one of his high points. Struggled a few days later in Warsaw and picked up a yellow card that rules him out of the first leg of the play-offs.
A surprise starter against Scotland (h) and Germany (h). Justified his inclusion against the Scots but less so against Germany. Played 17 times and still no goals for the bustling Ipswich striker.