Perfect preparation for O'Neill
Published 24/05/2014 | 15:32
Martin O'Neill will use Ireland's end-of-season friendlies as dress rehearsals for next summer's Euro 2016 showdown with Scotland.
The two sides meet at the Aviva Stadium on June 13 next year in what could prove to be a pivotal clash in the race for qualification from Group D.
They will do so several weeks after the end of the domestic season in England, where most of O'Neill's players ply their trade, and Scotland, meaning the men involved will have to maintain their match-fitness and sharpness long after many of their club-mates head for the beach.
For that reason, O'Neill is delighted to be able to reproduce the kind of conditions under which his squad will have to operate in 12 months time as he prepares for friendlies against Turkey in Dublin on Sunday, and Italy, Costa Rica and Portugal during the following fortnight or so.
He said: "This is an opportunity. It's ideal for me - it's not for the players in the sense that it's at the end of the season.
"But this time next year, we are going to be playing a game in mid-June against Scotland, so from that viewpoint when the players looked at that, they thought, 'Listen here, let's get on with it'.
"From the viewpoint of is there going to be a bit of a competitive edge, absolutely, it's got to be better."
Defender John O'Shea, who will captain the team in the absence of Robbie Keane, who will not join up until the squad heads for the United States next month, acknowledged the importance of replicating the kind of intensity which will be required ahead of the showdown with the Scots.
He said: "This time next year, we will be well into the campaign and have a very important game on the horizon at this time of the season.
"In that sense, it's an important time because you have to keep yourself in shape after the season finishes, not switch off totally.
"It's going to be a key time. With the manager not having played a competitive game yet, the squad is still in that honeymoon period, everyone is settling in and wanting to impress, as you always will be in training.
"But there's still freshness about it and an eagerness, as you can tell from the numbers that have turned up and wanting to be involved in the matches."
O'Shea, like Everton's Seamus Coleman, will be excused the trans-Atlantic leg of the get-together after a gruelling season with club Sunderland, who reached the Capital One Cup final with flirting with relegation from the Barclays Premier League before ultimately dragging themselves to safety in spectacular style.
The 33-year-old could be forgiven for looking forward to his break with more relish than usual following an eventful few months, and he admits he feared the worst after successive Monday night defeats by West Ham and Tottenham left the Black Cats seven points adrift of safety.
Asked about his rollercoaster campaign, he said: "That's the prefect description, a rollercoaster. It was great that we went on the run that we did.
"After the two Monday night games, it was fairly certain looking at fixtures especially, thinking teams are going to pull away from you. It wasn't looking too good."
Before O'Shea gets to put his feet up, there is the small matter of 90 minutes against Turkey, a side O'Neill expects to cause more than a few problems.
The manager said: "They are strong. I have just watched a couple of DVDs of them.
"Of course, they will make a couple of changes in the side - I think there's a bit of emphasis on some new young players coming into the squad as well to mix with a bit of experience.
"But from the recent games they have played, they looked decent. But Turkey are Turkey and they will cause you plenty of problems."
Hull midfielder David Meyler was able to train on Saturday morning after sitting out the two previous days with a calf problem, and he is expected to be available for selection, while Newcastle keeper Rob Elliot could be handed a debut before missing the Italy game at Craven Cottage next weekend for his wedding.
He and current number one David Forde are the only two keepers in the current squad, although O'Neill is keeping an eye on Keiren Westwood's situation as he looks for a new club following his release by Sunderland despite recovering from a long-term shoulder problem.
He said: "Of course it's important for him because we have got a couple of goalkeepers here at this moment and Keiren has always been in the reckoning because of his talent, and maybe this might be a decisive moment for him."