Former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane is very aware of the physical threat posed by Poland this weekend and believes that the 11 men who eventually take to the field for the visit of Poland this Sunday at the Aviva stadium need to make it as uncomfortable as possible for their opponents.
The current Republic of Ireland assistant manager is no stranger to injury having recorded an impressive catalogue of injuries in his time with the Red Devils, Nottingham Forest and Celtic, and Keane feels that a physical statement will be required to set the tone this Sunday in a stadium where, he believes, opposing sides have had it too easy up to now.
“The atmosphere no doubt will be brilliant, but that just can't come from the supporters, that's got to come from the players – we've got to be on the front, got to be making tackles, getting chances, putting our bodies on the line, and that will get the fans right behind us,” Keane told media after the squad trained at the Aviva Stadium today.
“In any campaign you have to have a decent home record. I'm guessing other teams have come here and have probably enjoyed the Aviva. It's up to us to be on the front foot, obviously get the fans behind us, which I'm sure they will be. Of course the old Lansdowne [Road stadium] was brilliant, always a great atmosphere there, but in terms of the atmosphere for Sunday, that's the least of our worries, that'll take care of itself – I think it will be electric.”
Everton midfielder Darron Gibson (groin), Burnley left-back Stephen Ward and Wigan Athletic winger James McClean (both ankle) all missed training today, while Norwich City maestro Wes Hoolahan limped out of training carrying his left boot in his hand after sustaining a knock. Keane wasn't too concerned about the injury to the former Shelbourne midfielder, though.
“I think he's okay [Hoolahan],” said Keane. “When you have games, places are up for grabs, players are going to get knocked in training. It's not chess we're playing.”
“It's a tough game and obviously Wes has done well for us since we've come in and hopefully he'll have a role to play,” added Keane. “I'm sure we'll gauge it over the next few days. As I've said, there's places up for grabs – it's up to the players over the next few days to see who takes that opportunity. But I'm sure if Wes starts he won't let us down, he never has.”
Martin O'Neill's assistant admitted that they may have found one or two chinks in the impressive Polish rearguard to exploit, but would not be drawn into giving those away – only admitting that set-pieces could be decisive on Sunday.
“Maybe one or two [weaknesses in their defence] but do you expect me to tell you?” asked Keane with arched eyebrows. “You'd like to think with any team that there's areas you can get at, but obviously that's easier said than done. You can prepare the players and the team, we've got decent selection options and hopefully we get it right. But we've got to be at our best to get a result on Sunday, there's no getting away from that.
“Set-pieces at the highest level are vital, you see a lot of big moments in the big matches are [decided by] set-plays. No doubt Poland are very physical but also aggressive with it, and our lads have to be the same,” said Keane.
“A lot of it will depend on delivery so we're hoping one or two lads are fit from that side of it, but obviously set-pieces do decide a lot of big games and that could be the case on Sunday. So we have to make sure we're getting in the right areas and we're getting enough corner kicks and free-kicks, we put the ball in the right areas and hopefully we have lads on the day who are aggressive, determined.
“You talk about movement, but you want lads who actually want to head the ball,” added Keane. “You've got to be brave in that aspect, and we've got one or two lads who you hope on the day will take that chance.”