We need to be better in every aspect of our play: Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill
REPUBLIC of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill insists they will have to improve in “every aspect” ahead of next month's Nations Cup home games against Wales and Denmark after Thursday night's nightmare defeat in Cardiff.
The Irish lost 4-1 to a rampant Welsh side and were outclassed in every department. It was the Republic's first competitive match since last November's heavy World Cup play-off defeat to the Danes. For a side that carries a reputation of being hard to beat, the Irish have leaked nine goals in their last two competitive outings.
Thursday night's loss in Cardiff felt just as demoralising as that Denmark defeat even though the stakes weren't as high.
With several players having retired from international football, O'Neill is searching for new talent – but the night in Cardiff felt like the end of an era rather than the start of a new one.
Clearly, there is a dearth of quality in the Irish ranks, especially with James McClean, Robbie Brady, Shane Long and James McCarthy are out injured, while Harry Arter's international future looks uncertain after he stepped away from the panel following a training ground bust-up with assistant manager Roy Keane in June.
“I think it's nine players I've capped in recent months,” said O'Neill, “so we're searching around and it's difficult and it's a challenge.”
Compared to the brimming young talent coming through Welsh ranks – particularly Ethan Lampuda, David Brooks and Tom Lawrence – O'Neill's options aren't nearly as rich.
“For instance, Shaun [Williams] is 31 or 32-years-of-age,” said the manager.
“I don't know where he was in his 20s. When I came into the job he must have been 28, I don't know, and at that stage I think he was playing third division football for Millwall.
“I think the players realise how difficult it is. International football is still a step up. Some of the lads that are playing Premier League find it slightly easier and some of the lads in the Championship are finding it tough going.”
O'Neill was still able to field six English Premiership players – Seamus Coleman, Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark, Stephen Ward, Jeff Hendrick and Cyrus Christie – but Ireland's underbelly is devoid of genuine international talent.
The ageing Jonathan Walters was O'Neill's only available central striker for Thursday night's Welsh tie and is almost certain to be rested for Tuesday night's friendly game in Poland after the on-loan Ipswich man played three games in nine days.
Arguably the most worrying aspect of Ireland's performance was the poor work-rate in parts of the side. The Irish defence may have been all at sea for most of the game – not to mention Darren Randoph being beaten at his near post for three of the goals – the midfield malfunctioned badly.
“We should be able to learn a lot from the game. While there were some super performances from the Welsh players, we have to look at ourselves as well.
“Some of the goals we conceded were really avoidable and I think when we get down to analyse the game I'm hoping we'll be able to pick up and iron out a few things that were kind of fundamental.
Asked was he content with the work-rate of his side in Cardiff, O'Neill said: “Sometimes it's nothing to do with a willingness, it's maybe to do with that [lack of] energy.
“I think when you haven't got the ball – and against Wales, we didn't have a great deal of the ball – we do have to close down and close down in a pack as well, not just one or two trying to close and then they're playing through you.
“It's a case of all of us trying to close down as much as we possibly can and not leaving the back door open.
“And sometimes our use of the ball, we were giving it away unnecessarily – and that causes us a problem. It's hard enough when we have to deal with it but we have given a couple of passes away.
“Having said that Jeff [Hendrick] made a crossfield pass that led to Gareth Bale's goal.
“He's given a crossfield pass, that's fine, he maybe should have played it square but he's tried a little pass But it's almost in the left back position.
“They score within 10 or 15 seconds, so we should do better all over the pitch to nullify that and certainly to stop Bale coming in onto his favoured left foot, getting a challenge in and sending top class players down the way you want them to go rather than coming in.
“We know these things; it's executing them. You give away a pass but it shouldn't be the end of the world but we didn't deal with it.
“We need to improve, obviously. We need to improve in just about every aspect.”
The Republic host Denmark (October 13) and Wales (October 16) in a Nations Cup double header in Dublin and O'Neill will be hoping McClean, Brady and Long will return after injury to bolster his options.
“Next month there might be one or two fitter lads,” O'Neill said.
“I'm hoping that one or two might be back by that time but if they're not we'll soldier on.”