Expect tried and trusted battlers to get Copenhagen nod
Martin O’Neill gave very little away throughout his week-long press duties in the build-up to this crunch clash with Denmark.
Pregnant pauses and sentences started with lots of "you knows" and "I thinks", the manager only puts out exactly what he wants to reveal, and most of the time that amounts to little or nothing when talking tactics or selections.
O’Neill does, however, always appear to illuminate a little whenever Callum O’Dowda’s name is mentioned, and the Bristol City attacking midfielder has hit a rich vein of club form at just the right time in the build-up to tomorrow night’s play-off encounter.
O’Neill, of course, plucked O’Dowda from the Under-21 set-up while the player was still in the lower leagues with Oxford United and threw him into the Turner’s Cross cauldron at the last minute to see if he would sink or swim.
O’Dowda came on for the last 15 or so minutes in the friendly clash with Belarus on the night that the manager had to name his final squad for France and made an immediate impact – albeit amidst a string of awful Irish performances.
The squad selection came just a little too late for O’Dowda to be included for the Euros but he was asked to stay on and train with the final squad for a few days and had there been a late withdrawal, the Oxford youngster would most likely have got the nod.
O’Neill must feel a sense of real pride watching O’Dowda’s progression at both club and country over the past year and no doubt, wants him to play a bigger part in the current squad.
But for all that, O’Dowda will probably still miss out on a starting berth against Denmark tomorrow night.
The reason being, of course, that James McClean and Robbie Brady will, no doubt, play in either of the positions that O’Dowda would most naturally slot in, patrolling either flank.
Stephen Ward looked to be struggling with a knock earlier in the week and had the Burnley man not made the requisite improvement, O’Dowda would surely have been used with Brady dropping back into the left-back role.
O’Dowda is getting close but this away leg may not be the time to take a real chance on the ever-improving player. Come next Tuesday, with the odd yellow card set to cause a reshuffle, he may just start at the Aviva.
So with Brady and McClean on either flank, who else will get that last-minute nod from the gaffer?
Notorious for leaving his team selection until the very last minute, it proved quite the revelation earlier this week that O’Neill actually told Harry Arter he was playing against Wales before the team left the hotel for the stadium.
Arter admitted that he did not expect to start and perhaps O’Neill thought to err on the side of caution and give the Bournemouth man a chance to get into match mode.
The midfielder barely put a foot wrong throughout the game in Cardiff and even when he didn’t touch the ball, Ireland scored. Of course he meant that dummy.
So expect Arter to join Glenn Whelan and Jeff Hendrick in a midfield three, the manager not really having any other options considering David Meyler is suspended, while James McCarthy is again injured.
At this stage, the defence is starting to pick itself and even in Seamus Coleman’s absence, there is a very settled look to the back four with Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark marshalling the middle with Cyrus Christie and Ward covering the full-back positions.
Darren Randolph will of course start in goal, which leaves just one dilemma for the manager; who to hand the role of leading the line?
At this stage, it is a straight toss up between Daryl Murphy and Shane Long and there is every chance that is will be a 60:30 split between the two front men.
Murphy put in a real shift in Cardiff and would be very unlucky to miss out on the starting berth, while Long’s poor goalscoring form will make the manager’s decision easier should he opt for the former.
The Nottingham Forest striker will cause a real problem for the Danish defenders and with just one man up front, Murphy offers better options in terms of holding the ball up, allowing the midfield, who will be spending a lot of time in their own half, to get up with the play.
That will leave Long raring to go for the final half hour and what better time to burst back into form?
Live coverage of Denmark v Ireland on RTÉ2 (7.25pm), live radio commentary on RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday Sport and live blog on RTÉ.ie from 6pm.