O'Neill seeking win over Scotland
Published 03/06/2015 | 16:56
Martin O'Neill has left his Republic of Ireland players in little doubt that next weekend's showdown with Scotland could go a long way towards deciding their Euro 2016 fate.
The Republic face Gordon Strachan's men at the Aviva Stadium on June 13 having lost 1-0 in the reverse fixture in Glasgow in November last year, and a repeat would severely damage their hopes of closing the gap to Poland, Germany and the Scots, who are currently above them in Group D, from which two sides will qualify automatically.
While there will still be plenty of football left to play whatever happens in Dublin this month, manager O'Neill is acutely aware of what a boost victory would provide.
He said: "First of all, I wouldn't hide away from the fact that it's a very important game for us. We've been beaten in Scotland and we'd like to win the return game, and it would give us a massive boost.
"If we are beaten in the game, then of course it makes life a lot more difficult in terms of trying to qualify, but there is plenty of football to play.
"There is always pressure on you to win games at this level and I think we should embrace that and not shy away from it."
To that end, Ireland will warm up for a game they cannot afford to lose with two friendlies, the first of them against neighbours Northern Ireland behind closed doors at the Aviva on Thursday, and then the eagerly-anticipated clash with England at the same venue on Sunday.
It will be the first time the two sides have met in the city since the infamous night in 1995 when rioting England fans forced the abandonment of the last game, but while the fixture may be historic in that context, it is what it means in terms of preparation which matters more to O'Neill.
He said: "I think it's a really good game for us. It's heightened the profile, and when it was arranged I was delighted as it gives us the opportunity to play a high-profile game and a high intensity game the week before [Scotland]."
In the meantime, O'Neill will look to hone his team with a run-put against Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland squad away from prying eyes, and he will use it as an opportunity to get minutes under the belt for players such as Aiden McGeady, who missed much of the second half of Everton's season through injury, and those men plying their trade in the Sky Bet Championship, most of whom finished their club commitments a month ago.
Asked if there was an agreement between the two managers to take it easy on the pitch, the former Celtic boss said: "That shouldn't really be a problem. I'm looking at this very positively."
He added with a smile: "But you may be right. We are down to kick off at 1pm - if the game finishes at 1.10pm, I'll think you might have had a point."
Defender Marc Wilson, one of several players who was born in the North but opted to represent the Republic, is desperate to play some part on Thursday's game and does not fear any backlash.
He said: "That's part and parcel of football, isn't it? You get tackles and you've just got to take them and get on with it. Then hopefully when you get the chance, put your foot in and do the same."
Indeed, the 27-year-old Stoke player is keen to be involved in all three games, and is treating the Northern Ireland match as he would any other international fixture rather than just as a training game.
He said: "I'd like to be involved in all the games if I could. As a football player that's what you want. You want to play in every single game and I'm no different.
"It's a match. Definitely, it's a match."