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Ahead Of Vital Games, Martin O'Neill Returns To Familiar Irish Problem

Ahead Of Vital Games, Martin O'Neill Returns To Familiar Irish Problem
By Gavin Cooney

There was no Brian Clough anecdote today.

Instead, Martin O'Neill's press conference at the Aviva Stadium today was stalked by another familiar ghost.

"I obviously inherited a rather older Robbie Keane than I would like to have done, but he's the only one that you could day you could rely on to actually score goals" ruminated O'Neill when talk turned to his striking options.

That Keane has never been adequately replaced has been a consistent theme of O'Neill's reign since the European Championships, and he returned to it ahead of the incipient Nations League double-header against Denmark and Wales.

Shane Long sat out training today but is expected to be fit for Saturday's return game with Wales, and while Jon Walters is ruled out Seani Maguire is ready to play some part, although may not be ready for 90 minutes given his season has thus far amounted to all of 20 minutes action for Preston last weekend. The other strikers in the squad are Scott Hogan, Aiden O'Brien, and Callum Robinson.

Ireland's once doughty defence has disintegrated recently, but the perishing of that virtue has not brought with it the betterment of goalscoring problems.

Speaking on the second anniversary of Shane Long's last goal for Ireland, scored away to Moldova, O'Neill admitted that Long is not a prolific goalscorer.

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We do have a problem, I have had this problem with the national side here for five years. It's been a long-existing problem before that. I obviously inherited a rather older Robbie Keane than I would like to have done, but he's the only one that you could day you could rely on to actually score goals.

Jon Walters took on that mantle during the Euro qualifying and that was great, but you wouldn't have said that Jon was a prolific goalscorer in that sense, certainly not in the way that Robbie Keane is. In truth, we don't have anyone who has proved themselves to be a prolific scorer, so it is a difficult one.

Shane is not that – he hasn't scored at club level now for quite some considerable time, and of course that plays with your mind.

But you have to be very, very strong and think then the next chance that comes along, 'This is the one that I'm going to take'.

Long scored just twice last season for Southampton and has yet to score in six games this season. Remarkably, he has had just a single shot on target in those games.

He is, however, by far the highest-scoring striker in the Irish squad. While Long has 17 goals, Maguire, Hogan, O'Brien, and Robinson have a single goal between them, which is O'Brien's in the recent friendly in Poland.

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While some of that fact can be attributed to a lack of experience - the quartet have just six caps between them - only Maguire's goal record at club level is particularly encouraging.

Injury has denied him all but 20 minutes of the season thus far, and Preston boss Alex Neil asked Ireland not to throw his striker in at the deep end from the off against Denmark. O'Neill confirmed today that the ambition is that Maguire can play a cameo role on Saturday.

In terms of Maguire he hasn't played that much, he just got into the squad. He told me that trained for the last few weeks which is good, but obviously he's had a few historical hamstring problems that have arisen in the last 14-16 months and when you start getting those you have to make sure that you're absolutely fine.

But we'll look after him and we'll monitor his training this week, and monitor everything he does, which we'll send back to Preston so that they know that we're treating the player in the manner in which we'd like to be treated ourselves.

So we'll see how he is. Remember he only came on in the last 15 minutes of the match and that was his first piece of action for quite some time. We'll have a look at him and if he can make a little cameo for us that would be great.

Since making a goalscoring debut in Poland, Aiden O'Brien has been in-and-out of the Millwall team - four starts in seven games - and O'Neill hinted at frustration.

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If you took young Aiden O'Brien, played in the game against Poland, did well, worked exceptionally hard in the game, got a goal for his rewards - which was great - and comes back to find himself sometimes starting, sometimes coming off, sometimes on the bench in the last couple of weeks as well for Millwall, so it will be a wee bit frustrating.

But if he comes into the squad, I think he should not concern himself too much with what's happened in the last couple of weeks at club level and try to concentrate and try to think about the good things he did in the game in Poland.

See Also: Doherty And Arter Make Cut As O'Neill Finalises Irish Squad

See Also: James McClean Emphatically Rejects Klopp's Comments About Nations League

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