Shane Duffy’s devastating metatarsal injury, that will rule the Brighton centre-back of action for the next 6 weeks could not have come at a worse time for the 25-year-old.
His club Brighton are pushing Newcastle United all the way as the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League gathers pace and he will now have to watch in the stands as his teammates enter a crucial stage of the season.
Duffy’s absence will also come as a huge blow to Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill who, along with Ciaran Clark, had been the manager’s first choice centre-back pairing. Although there is a case to argue that Sunderland defender John O’Shea should start the massive clash with Wales even if Duffy had been fit.
Ireland are top of Group D on ten points, sitting four points above Wales who come to the Aviva stadium later this month in a game that will go a long way in deciding if the Republic will go to World Cup Russia 2018 next summer, and indeed is a must-win game for the visitors who are struggling to carry on the form that saw them star at the Euros last summer.
Duffy is prone to the odd mistake (as was evident in last year’s Euro 2016) and following a nightmare start to the season with Blackburn Rovers, his move to Brighton under Chris Hughton has seen the centre back produce some commanding performances alongside Lewis Dunk, although you always feel there is a mistake in him.
The past twelve months have seen a combination of John O’Shea, Richard Keogh, Ciaran Clark and Shane Duffy all used at the heart of the defence yet O’Neill’s decision to pair Clark and Duffy together in the excellent away win in Austria was a clear sign they both would be the preferred option going forward after also being chosen in the victories over Moldova and Georgia, despite O’Shea and Keogh starting the campaign in Serbia.
Now Martin O’Neill will have to look for a partner for Ciaran Clark who himself is having a fine season with Newcastle United under Rafa Benitez and in all probability will be in the starting eleven on March 24th.
The former Leicester boss will more than likely revert to the Ciaran Clark/John O’Shea pairing that started against Sweden and Belgium at last summer’s Euros.
O’Shea is once again struggling to stay in the top flight with Sunderland but the 35-year-old, who has featured 21 times this season under David Moyes, has the key experience to slot in alongside Clark and the former Manchester United player is no stranger to playing in must-win games having won 15 major trophies during his spell at Old Trafford, including the Champions League in 2008.
The Waterford man had contemplated retiring after last summer’s Euro’s but Martin O’Neill saw the player as a key figure in his squad after losing the experience of both Robbie Keane and Shay Given, O’Shea is now a major senior voice within the squad and is in line to win his 117th cap if selected.
This could be the occasion where O’Neill’s persistence to make O’Shea hold off on retiring from International duty could be key to qualifying for another tournament.
Like Robbie Keane before him with Shane Long, O’Shea has found himself playing more the role of a leader off the pitch while Duffy and Clark take to the field as well as being a crucial senior voice in the dressing room.
Richard Keogh will also be an option but with the Derby man himself only returning from his own injury problems, O’Shea’s experience in what will be a sold-out Aviva Stadium will be crucial if Ireland are going to come away with, what will be a massive three points.
Damien McEvoy Pundit Arena