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The Penny Will Never Drop With Aiden McGeady In Green, But Maybe It's Not His Fault

The Penny Will Never Drop With Aiden McGeady In Green, But Maybe It's Not His Fault
By Gavan Casey Updated

Should he earn 12 more caps for Ireland, Aiden McGeady faces the possible indignation of being greeted with a lukewarm reception as he joins a short list of Irish football's international centurions.

Rarely if ever in international football has a player with 88 appearances made such a minimal impact on the pitch. Three important goals and two big-stage assists notwithstanding, the former Celtic man has, for the large part, put bums back in seats where once we expected he'd lift us out of them.

There was a near-palpable excitement when he returned to Ireland's starting lineup for Tuesday night's friendly versus Iceland. This season has seen McGeady enjoy his best form since his prodigious teenage years back in his native city - five goals and eight assists during a loan spell at Preston providing an adequate snapshot of his frequently dazzling displays in the Championship.

After a decent but brief cameo last Friday, he returned to the Ireland XI like a proverbial new signing - were that cliché applicable to international football, at least. It seemed the carpet had been unfurled for McGeady to lay down a marker against a weakened Iceland, and finally establish himself as a bona fide star in an Ireland team which, for all our understandable post-Euros hero-worshipping, is distinctly void of them.

Instead we were catapulted straight back to the inertia of McGeady failing to make any sort of positive impact on Ireland's right flank, failing to complete a cross - or indeed beat the first man - on even one occasion. Iceland's rearguard was confronted with the usual skewed, dribbling balls to nobody in particular, gobbling them up with consummate ease. McGeady was back, all right.

The problem with McGeady is that he's a fundamentally poor crosser of the ball; notable exceptions (Estonia playoff, Croatia at Euro 2012) aside, his technique when swinging the ball from wide is frankly horrendous for a player of his considerable ability in other facets of the game.

The fact of the matter is that he's likely not a winger at all, but such are his assets - pace and decent footwork - he's been shoe-horned wide for the majority of his 13-year career, and certainly all of his Ireland career.

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It should also be said that he's infinitely more effective wandering inwards from the left flank than he is charging down the right, where he was deployed tonight.

It was from the left where he produced his definitive moment in an Irish jersey, rescuing his side with two goals in Tbilisi in 2014 - his last minute winner born of what the EA Sports FIFA video game series some years ago labelled 'The McGeady Spin', an inside-out 'roulette' of sorts - as Ireland beat Georgia 2-1 in Martin O'Neill's first competitive game in charge.

Often forgotten, however, was his dazzling display versus the same opposition at Croke Park five years prior. Similar position, same result.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVg35nOpSHg

Compare the above compilation from 2009 with his displays for Preston this season, and you'll notice a distinct pattern. Earlier this month, Gavin Cooney of this parish spoke with Dave Seddon, who covers Preston for the Lancashire Evening Post. Seddon maintained that most of McGeady's best work during his recent resurgence had arrived from central areas, or at least off-centre, with Preston boss Simon Grayson affording him a free role to significant success:

Simon Grayson, the way he plays, his back four are very disciplined, as are the midfield two. But anyone up front or playing the wings are let off the cuff.

They'll swap wings, and there have been times during games that, if, McGeady is playing on the wing, and if the opposition full-backs are pushing on and need to be tracked, he will move McGeady infield to a number 10 position and move Callum Robinson to the left. That relieves McGeady of his defensive duties, and Preton have had quite a lot of joy doing it.

He's almost given McGeady a blank canvas.

And McGeady has, on 13 or so occasions, produced art.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrDNuir669s

Of course, as tends to be the case if your wingers are licensed to cut inside, fullbacks are expected to push forward and maintain width. It's in these situations where McGeady has enjoyed his finest moments in all colours; a go-forward left-back both opens space up inside and offers the mercurial Glaswegian an out-ball. Once he has space and options, he's dangerous. It's when he's pinned to the flank, and resorts to haphazardly lugging the ball in the general vicinity of the 18-yard box when he's at his frustrating worst, and sadly - in a green jersey especially - that's been the case more often than not.

Such free roles are harder to come by in Ireland's uber-disciplined and rigid systems under O'Neill and Trapattoni before him; the above footage from Ireland's 2-1 victory over Georgia in 2009 was somewhat of an anomaly in that the left-back charging beyond McGeady was John O'Shea - reason being Ireland were trailing 1-0 at home to Georgia in a crucial qualifier and, as Keith Andrews alluded to when discussing 'that' Paris playoff leg on our recent Friends in Football podcast, structure had long since been flushed down the jacks.

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The very notion of Stephen Ward consistently overlapping Ireland's left winger at pace produces a neurological syntax error, and that's not a slight on Ward himself. It's simply not part of our gameplan under O'Neill, and hasn't been since Kevin Kilbane moved to left-back over a decade ago. Even a prime Séamus Coleman hasn't quite been given licence to frequently get to the byline under the current managerial regime. Instead, it's first and foremost the winger's role, and so McGeady - be he on the left or right - remains glued to the touchline, where he's largely underused and ineffective.

Perhaps more frustrating is that in Ireland's most recent two fixtures, O'Neill has seemingly accepted that without Wes Hoolahan, Ireland don't possess in their ranks a capable offensive playmaker in advanced areas. Instead, he's felt compelled to compromise his entire formation, and Ireland have barely had a shot on target - or created a guilt-edged chance - in over 180 minutes of football. Wales was certainly not the game in which to experiment, but a meaningless fixture versus Iceland surely was.

And there was McGeady, cast away to the right wing once more, running into cul-de-sacs as Iceland defenders doubled down on Ireland's form attacker.

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Irish football is blighted by fanciful 'what might have been' yarns: Andy Reid, Stephen Ireland, Saipan - even Wes Hoolahan to an extent. McGeady's Ireland legacy will instead be a frustrating tale of what was. He's hardly blameless, but perhaps some of his shortcomings were symptomatic of Ireland's own limitations, and a perpetual lack of trust in cavalier attackers, as opposed to his own deficiencies.

SEE ALSO: The Player Ratings From Ireland's 'Meh' Defeat To Iceland

 

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