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Paul McGrath: ‘Cautious approach in Switzerland may mean Connolly is left on the bench once more’

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Aaron Connolly was only on the field in Tbilisi for around 15 minutes, but the teenage Brighton striker showed more than enough on his senior Ireland debut to confirm manager Mick McCarthy needs to be bold and start him against the Swiss in Geneva.

Amid what was a dreadful all-round Ireland performance, Connolly showed sparks of inspiration when he was belatedly released from the bench and while it is asking a lot of a 19-year-old to lift a team that didn’t seem to be capable of stringing more than three passes together for most of the match, his late impact gave us hope for what is to come.

I would have hated to have played against a young kid I didn’t know too much about who had no fear, raw pace and a finishing touch that had already been highlighted on the Premier League stage.

We don’t want to get carried away with this young man, but he has flashes of Robbie Keane about him and I hope Mick grasps the nettle and gives him a chance to start against Switzerland.

Ireland are not going to have too much of the ball in Geneva if their woeful passing yesterday is anything to go by, so it will be all about making use of set-pieces and counter-attacks from open play and that’s why we need young Connolly.



Aaron Connolly of Republic of Ireland takes a shot under pressure from Gia Grigalava of Georgia during the UEFA EURO2020 Qualifier match between Georgia and Republic of Ireland at the Boris Paichadze Erovnuli Stadium in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Aaron Connolly of Republic of Ireland takes a shot under pressure from Gia Grigalava of Georgia during the UEFA EURO2020 Qualifier match between Georgia and Republic of Ireland at the Boris Paichadze Erovnuli Stadium in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Goals have been a problem for Ireland since Robbie hung up his golden boots a few years back and while we have kids bursting through the ranks now that could do a job for us in years to come, Connolly looks like he is ready to make his mark now.

The concern I would have is that Mick will be cautious once again when he goes to Switzerland and that may mean Connolly is left on the bench once more.

There was talk that the youngster might come on at half-time in a game that was there for the taking against a pretty average Georgian defensive line and a keeper that wouldn’t fill anyone with confidence.

Yet Mick played it safe and when his first substitution was made, it was Alan Browne who was sent on to shore things up and not the attacking change we all wanted.

Connolly did well to get a couple of chances in his brief appearance on the field, but the end result was all too predictable and I fear we will live to regret our lack of ambition in what was a desperately disappointing 0-0 draw.

There has been so much positivity around McCarthy’s return as Ireland manager and there is no doubt that he has revived a team that was on its knees a year ago, but I was so disappointed by many aspects of what we saw yesterday.

The lads in the defensive line held things together and looked solid enough, aside from a few mix-ups, but Georgia never looked like they were going to score a goal and that’s why it is so frustrating that we didn’t show a little more ambition at the other end.

As the game unfolded, I really struggled to understand what Ireland were trying to do and looking at the body language of the players, I’m not sure they were any more aware of the game plan than I was.



Seamus Coleman, left, and Jeff Hendrick of Republic of Ireland clap the supporters following the UEFA EURO2020 Qualifier match between Georgia and Republic of Ireland at the Boris Paichadze Erovnuli Stadium in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Seamus Coleman, left, and Jeff Hendrick of Republic of Ireland clap the supporters following the UEFA EURO2020 Qualifier match between Georgia and Republic of Ireland at the Boris Paichadze Erovnuli Stadium in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

There was a real disconnect throughout the team, with Ireland’s inability to string passes together making it impossible to build up any attacking momentum.

You had to feel sorry for Luton Town’s James Collins making his first competitive start because he was feeding off the bare bones of scraps as the service coming his way was non-existent.

We were trying to get the ball into wide areas and when we got it to James McClean or Callum Robinson, they didn’t have the quality we needed and some of the set-piece deliveries were also very disappointing.

Shane Duffy had a chance to win it for Ireland with the last play of the game as a good ball was delivered into the box and he got his head on it, but a victory would have flattered an Ireland side that now needs to get positive results against Switzerland and Denmark in the final two group games.

We have seen Ireland sides going away from home and producing the odd shock result down the years and we can hope for something special in Switzerland, with the home game against Denmark certain to be a special occasion at the Aviva Stadium next month with so much on the line.

I guess we would have taken that position when Mick took over a team that had lost its way badly under Martin O’Neill, but we could have made our lives so much easier if we had got the goal that would have given us a win in Georgia.

Now Ireland fans have to keep the faith for these final two qualifiers and all we ask is that Mick and his coaching staff are a little more daring in the decisive games against Switzerland and Denmark.

Online Editors



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