The Irish Mail on Sunday
WE MUST GO FOR IT
MBARTIN O’NEILL’S message came through loud and clear on the eve of the first of four summer friendlies against countries all ranked above Ireland in the FIFA world rankings. ‘Why not go for it? Why not go for the tough games? I think it will be better preparation for the Euros,’ he said ahead of today’s match with Turkey.
The Ireland manager must wait until September 7 before he takes charge of a competitive fixture. The Boys in Green travel to Georgia for their opening Euro 2016 qualifying group game and he made plain his thinking behind targeting their upcoming opponents – likes of Portugal and Italy, third and ninth respectively in FIFA’s rankings, as well as 34th-placed Costa Rica for these summer friendlies.
‘These teams are going to the World Cup, so you would imagine they might go as strongly as possible. We’re ready for it and there’s an enthusiasm there, the lads want to have a go.’
O’Neill, who admitted he would not stand in Roy Keane’s way should the assistant manager be approached by Celtic’s majority shareholder Dermot Desmond about filling the vacant top job in Glasgow, has had just three days to work with his players ahead of today’s game at Aviva Stadium.
But by the time the post-season work-out comes to an end in New Jersey against the Portuguese on June 10, he will have had ample opportunity to implement his ideas.
‘When you get the opportunity to work with the players for this amount of time, it almost feels like a club job but there is a very obvious difference and you have to get to grips with that,’ the Derryman said.
‘The last time we came in against Serbia, it was for only a couple of days. When you start to see the players more often than you would do in terms of watching the games, you start to form an opinion of them and it doesn’t always correspond to watch you see when you meet up with the players.’
And in a sign that he was becoming more comfortable in his surr o u n d i n g s , h e managed a quick-witted reply when asked to elaborate on the point.
‘I’ve got to dislike a lot more players than I would have done,’ he laughed. UT AS O’Neill has stressed from the moment he pared his 32-man squad down to 29 in Waterford on Tuesday, he has been taken aback by the positive reaction from players who want to make their mark on this tour.
This time next year, the Group D qualifying campaign will be past the halfway point and Ireland will be preparing for what will hope- fully be a vital home game against Scotland on June 13 in Dublin.
‘[These games] are ideal for me but not ideal for the players as it’s at the end of the season, but again this time next year we’re going to be playing a game,’ he explained.
‘When the players looked at that they thought “let’s get on with it”. From the view point of if there will be a competitive edge, then absolutely.
‘We have a number of players who have given up this time. I know these are international games and you think that they should do but some of the players wouldn’t want to be carrying around for three weeks without getting on the field of play so we’ll make changes. But we want to stay competitive, so it’s a balancing act.’
By the end of the trip, O’Neill will have had almost a month with the players and he has revealed that some have already approached him to see what he thinks about their game and how they can improve.
Derby y County’s 22-year-old midfielder der Jeff Hendrick is one O’Neill Neill is particularly keen to take a closer look at.
‘There e have been a number of players ers that have come to me – just st in recent times – and asked me “what did I think of their game ame at club level?” And I didn’t t really want to be putting g a club manager out who shares ares the same view as me – but it is important,’ explained
When you get to work with the players for this amount of time, it feels like a club job