By Kieran Rooney
YET again the lack of creativity in the Republic of Ireland's soccer team's midfield has become an issue.
It followed the 3-1 European 2012 Group B qualifying victory over Andorra at the Aviva Stadium last week. The result means that the Republic of Ireland top the group ahead of Slovakia on points difference after two games.
Nothing wrong with that. It's exactly where manager Giovanni Trappatoni wanted to be following the opening two fixtures against Armenia and Andorra but there's the nagging concern that the Irish side should have boosted their goal difference considerably more in those games.
Goal difference, after all, could prove vital at the end of the campaign. Over in Armenia, the fact that Robbie Keane missed a couple of sitters clearly didn't help but the Spurs man did regain his touch to secure Ireland's third goal against Andorra.
At one point Trappatoni's team looked as if they were capable of running away with the game. Kevin Kilbane gave them an early lead when heading in a corner from Liam Lawrence before Kevin Doyle unleashed a spectacular shot to make it 2-0 shortly before the interval.
There looked no way back for Andorra. But right on half-time Christian Martinez thumped home a shot to rival Doyle's from outside the area and reduce the deficit to 2-1.
Somehow, the minnows were back in it. It didn't last with Keane combining to good effect with Aidan McGeady before coolly slotting home the third goal which made it 3-1 nine minutes after the break.
The problem was that Ireland didn't add to that tally. More sharpness around the box would have helped but the main issue was a lack of creativity in central midfield.
It's often said that Trappatoni picks team to compete against the better outfits. In other words, to stop them playing.
But when asked to create against an inferior side like Andorra, Glen Whelan and Paul Green in central midfield, were found wanting. Previously, the call had been for Andy Reid to be involved but now he is out of the running, Darron Gibson seems the more obvious answer.
Gibson did get a run after 61 minutes as a substitute for Whelan and, in truth, didn't manage to set the world alight. But by then the entire Irish team had lost their way to a large degree and it was asking a lot for the Manchester United player to have a major impact.
It was only when McGeady was operating at his best down the flanks in the first half that they really looked the part. The Spartak Moscow recruit was consistently beating players and providing space.
McGeady, however, didn't have the same impact in the second half, although he managed to set up Keane's goal. Maybe that was the result of lack of starts following his move from Celtic to Russia this season.
Either way, Ireland increasingly depended on long balls for Doyle and Keane. Afterwards, Trapattoni went out of his way to praise McGeady, and stated that he was confident about the future in a pool which also contains Slovakia, Russia, and Macedonia.
But it was a comment that he made previously suggesting that Gibson might develop more as a player if he were to move away from Manchester United which really caught the headlines.
Trapattoni's argument is that Gibson would at least get regular first team football instead of generally warming the bench at Old Trafford. But this didn't go down at all well with the 22-year-old Derry-born midfielder and his response could undermine his chances of getting back into the Irish side.
Speaking to the Derry Journal, Gibson commented: "Where else would I go from Manchester United. What other club could I go to improve my game?
"If he's trying to say I should go to somewhere like Stoke and change my game to winning tackles and not winning games, then he's having a laugh. To move from Manchester United just doesn't make sense to me."
Despite those comments, Gibson insists that he has a good relationship with Trapattoni. But he might do well to remember what happened to Andy Reid when he crossed swords with the veteran Irish boss.
Predictably, Trapattooni hardly seemed pleased when informed of Gibson's comments. He said: "If Gibson wants to stay at Manchester United, let him stay. It's not my problem.
"But when he stays on the bench, obviously he is not improving. The answer is that he must play."
Interestingly, Gibson was again among the Manchester United substitutes in their 3-3 Premier League draw with Everton at Goodison Park last Saturday but did not get a run. That's hardly likely to improve his prospects for Ireland's next European action against Russia at the Aviva Stadium on October 8.
PHOTO BY INPHO
Tipp add U-21
crown to haul
JUST to emphasize the amount of quality around the county right now, Tipperary added the All-Ireland Under 21 Hurling title to their senior crown over the weekend.
They started as strong favorites, with five of the senior side in their ranks, but few could have envisaged that they would demolish Galway by 5-22 to 0-12. To be fair to Galway, they had a very good team and were playing under protest at Tipperary's home gound in Thurles.
But this didn't explain the enormous gap between the two sides. In winning, Tipperary broke the previous margin of victory for an Under 21 final, surpassing Cork's 24-point replay victory over Wexford in 1970.
The truth is that Tipperary were quite brilliant. Understandably boosted by the fact that the Liam McCarthy Cup had already returned to the country, they were all over Galway from the start.
The 21,110 crowd at Semple Stadium could hardly believe what they were seeing in the opening 15 minutes. By then, Tipperary were 3-4 to 0-2 ahead and the match was finished as a contest.
As impressive as the All-Ireland senior contingent were, it was another player Brian O'Meara who was made Man of the Match. Earlier this year, the senior manager Liam Sheedy had come under some criticism for including the youngster for the Munster quarter-final defeat by Cork.
But O'Meara's performance last Saturday night showed Sheedy's judgement was pretty good. O'Meara is some player. Within 30 seconds of the throw-in, he had taken a high ball from John O'Dwyer and crashed home a goal.
He then returned the compliment to provide O'Dwyer with the chance of getting the second. When the impressive Patrick Maher set up Sean Carey for the third goal in the 15 minute, poor Galway didn't know what had hit them.
It's didn't get any better with Noel McGrath and Maher getting further goals and the points coming from all angles. Unfortunately, Galway's prospects weren't helped when they had centre-forward Niall Quinn red carded in the 52nd minute.
While the choice of venue still rankled with Galway, their manager Anthony Cunningham quite rightly didn't use it as an excuse. "It's not nice to put young players into this environment, but I wouldn't take away from Tipperary. They were fantastic."
Wexford take camogie title
GALWAY'S disappointing weekend was continued when they went down 1-12 to 1-10 to Wexford in the All-Ireland Camogie final at Croke Park on Sunday.
Unlike their Under 21 hurling team, the Galway ladies proved highly competitive but no one could deny that Wexford deserved their success. They controlled the first half to lead by 1-8 to 0-4 at the interval before Galway hit back with a spirited second half performance.
Initially, they seemed to have blow their chances when they missed a penalty shortly after the break but a soft goal by Aisling Connolly from a 35 yerd free in the dying minutes set up a dramatic finish.
So, it was a much relieved Wexford captain Una Leacy who lifted the O'Duffy Cup. In doing so she was recording a marvellous family double as he older sister Mary had captained Wexford to their 2007 success.
Una commented that Sunday's final was like the 2007 decider in many ways. She said: "We got away to a brilliant start and were under pressure in the second half. But our defence was excellent."
So was the Wexford attack with with Lacy prominent throughout. Ursula Jacob was outstanding, scoring 0-6, four of which were from frees, while the equally impressive Katrina Parrock and Kate Kelly contributed 1-2 and 0-2 respectively.
Offaly ruined Wexford's hopes of a double by beating them by 2-12 to 2-10 in the Intermediate final, while Waterford and Antrim finished level 1-9 apiece in the Junior decider.