By Ronan Murphy
November's international friendlies are a chance for managers to assess the strengths of their squads before breaking for the winter. On Monday evening, one international manager outlined his plans for the upcoming match: "I need to experiment a bit and send a few players home who are already established. It is a deliberate acid test, not a “B team”, and this is certainly no lack of respect to our hosts."
Those were the words of German manager Joachim Low ahead of his side's game with England. New Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill was somewhat more coy about his team selection, but his players have as much of a point to prove when it comes to their international future.
O'Neill's Ireland adventure started off with an impressive 3-0 home victory over Latvia, but Tuesday's friendly with Poland will be a much sterner test. Led by Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski, the Poles have plenty of quality in their side, and O'Neill's charges will want to prove themselves to be a match for their opponents.
The 61-year-old knows the calibre of his opponents, and believes the game will be more difficult than Friday's friendly. “Poland have always had some very, very fine players," O'Neill said in the pre-match press conference. "It will be very difficult for us, it will be difficult, but it’s a game we are looking forward to."
Time to step up | Shane Long has a chance to impress
Each player is starting afresh under O'Neill, particularly the players that were previously overlooked under Giovanni Trapattoni, and all 11 places on the pitch are up for grabs. David Forde was Trapattoni's preferred goalkeeper, but with Keiren Westwood plying his trade in the top tier, the Millwall stopper will hope to put in a good performance in Poznan.
Speaking ahead of the game in Poznan, Forde outlined his own desire to impress the new man in charge. “It’s early doors and he’s trying to figure out what’s what," Forde said. "We are all trying to prove ourselves to the new management and it’s an important time.
O'Neill did not wish to shake things up too much and kept Robbie Keane as captain for these first two games. However, even Keane's place is under threat, and with the talismanic forward set to begin the game on the bench, the chance has come for Shane Long or Jonathan Walters to display their quality at leading the line.
Both Long and Walters made an impressive impact off the bench against Latvia, and the West Bromwich Albion striker hopes he can repeat the performance under the new management team of O'Neill and Roy Keane. “The gaffer’s obviously managed at a lot of top teams and has a lot of knowledge of the game," Long said. "Obviously Roy was the player that he was and I think I can learn so much from the both of them.
"I’ve been lucky through my career, I’ve had some very good managers and hopefully I can impress this one and push my name in for starts in the games to come."
The Derryman prefers more traditional wingers, and will hope that James McClean and Aiden McGeady can both replicate their form from Friday. Hull City's Robbie Brady and Anthony Pilkington of Norwich both miss out through injury, and are sure to compete with McClean and McGeady for a wide berth in next year's European Championship qualifiers.
Similarly, at least three of the back four spots are up for grabs. John O'Shea is probably the only player guaranteed to start in defence, and is likely to deputise as captain in place of Keane against Poland. The centre of the pitch is another headache for O'Neill. Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy, and Wes Hoolahan all did well on Friday, but there are many others chomping at the bit for a starting berth.
The Poland friendly matters little for Fifa ranking points or Uefa seeding, but the reprecussions of Ireland's performance could be felt for the next two years. Now is the time for the players to make their mark, and ensure that they're in the manager's plans in nine months when the real games begin.