Since the European Championship qualifiers began Ireland have held a well constructed back four regardless of who it consisted of with maybe one or two exceptions along the way.
I was on the ground for Back Page Football for the recent international friendlies against Switzerland and Slovakia, and against the Swiss it was evident yet again.
However, Paul McShane found himself exposed for both goals against the Slovakians, but fear not as that is not often said about an Ireland defender nowadays.
Good Friday saw the only goal come from a combination of Ciaran Clark and Shane Duffy, who later worked tremendously to keep Switzerland out of Ireland’s danger zone.
These two centre backs epitomise what Martin O’Neill has done with many of his defenders: exceeding their expectations in terms of performance.
It bodes well going into the European Championships as places are up for grabs. Speaking to John O’Shea, the Ireland veteran said:
Ultimately, that’s how you want to go into games, knowing that you have that solid defence.
It’s not just a back four or five, but the midfield and the work rate of the players that was shown tonight [Tuesday vs Slovakia]. The midfielders, the attackers, the pressing that we were doing while forcing Slovakia into mistakes. That’s what we need to keep doing.
If only we could pick the brain of O’Neill to find out what exactly he is doing with this bunch of defences because we must not forget the majority of them are caught in Premier League relegation battles.
O’Shea, Clark and Robbie Brady are currently in split minds. The trio have relegation and the European Champions on their minds, which is the epitome of the highs and lows footballers face.
It’s one of those things. Throughout my career I have tried to win a league or tried to stay in the league. It’s just your job as a professional.
You go back and focus on club level when it’s time to play club games but obviously when you come over here it’s a proud moment representing your country. This is something I am fully accustomed to.
Blackburn Rovers defender Duffy impressed against the Swiss and filled O’Shea place which demands an array of cohesion.
Any threat from the opposition was met with a no-nonsense meaty challenge, and while that is not something you will get away with too often at an international competition it was refreshing at the same time.
Teams will have no other choice but to come out and have a go at O’Neill’s side in France this summer, but they will be wary of Shane Long’s pace up front at the same time.
It would be ludicrous to rule out Ireland’s chances of going beyond the group stages (Group E: Belgium, Italy, Sweden) because the boys in green put in a shift no matter who stands in their way.