Conservative O'Neill struggling to implement change

The re-call to the fold of veteran goalkeeper Shay Given is the only surprise in O'Neill's squad ahead of the commencement of Euro 2016 qualifying
By Ronan Murphy

When Martin O'Neill took charge of his first game as Republic of Ireland manager, the Ulsterman had to choose from a pre-picked squad of 27 players to play Latvia and Poland.

Noel King had selected the panel and it was a conservative one, despite having welcomed Darron Gibson and Andy Reid back from the international wilderness during his brief spell as caretaker manager. And such conservatism has persisted.

Since November 2013 when the Boys in Green began the O'Neill era, a total of two players have made their Ireland debuts: Newcastle United's deputy goalkeeper Rob Elliot and Blackburn Rovers' deadline day signing Shane Duffy.

Elliot looks set to double his cap tally against Oman, but will probably play just 45 minutes to make room for the returning Shay Given. While David Forde, Keiren Westwood, and Darren Randolph are all first choice at their clubs, the Oman friendly will see two backup goalkeepers feature for the Boys in Green.

Aston Villa stopper Shay Given offers little for the future, and although his experience may be useful in training and in the dressing room, he will have turned 40 by the time Euro 2016 arrives. But O'Neill has dismissed these concerns and believes that his decision to re-call Given will spur others on to greater heights.

"Why shouldn’t there be competition for places?" the 62-year-old defiantly replied when questioned on Given's inclusion. "If you’ve got enough confidence in your own ability, you shouldn’t worry too much about other people coming in."

One of the constant themes of O'Neill's tenure as Ireland boss has been his exasperation at the lack of fresh options pushing to break into the senior ranks. Back in February he said that he "hadn't exactly seen" any burgeoning talent.

Interestingly, like two of Ireland's most successful managers, Jack Charlton and Mick McCarthy, O'Neill has also looked boost his options by utilising the so-called 'granny rule' to add to his pool of players. However, his trawl has so far given nothing of note. Harry Kane is 'not interested', while both Jack Grealish and Mark Noble are undecided in case a chance with England may be on the horizon.

Duffy is one potential fresh option for O'Neill. One of Ireland's most capped players at Under-21 level, the new Blackburn Rovers signing has captained the country on numerous occasions. The 22-year-old defender demonstrated his ability while on loan at Yeovil Town last season, and had an impressive debut against Costa Rica. However, the Derry native was dropped from O'Neill's final squad.

There are other options, too, worthy of being given a chance to demonstrate their worth to the national team. One such example is APOEL striker Cillian Sheridan. The Cavan native is the only Irish footballer left in the Champions League and has found the net three times in four games in the competition thus far. This is the highest level in the European club scene - the level O'Neill wishes his players were at.

Ten months on from O'Neill's first games as the Republic of Ireland prepare to embark on their Euro 2016 Odyssey, there has been little progress. On-field results have been disappointing under the former Sunderland and Aston Villa manager, and since the 3-0 win over Latvia last November, the Boys in Green have failed to record a single victory - taking three draws and three defeats in the six subsequent friendlies.

For the moment it seems that Ireland may have a new jersey and a new manager, but the personnel on pitch differ little from this time two years ago. Maybe O'Neill is not the messiah for Ireland, instead he's just Ireland's own version of David Moyes - taking over from a legend, but with little true vision of his own.