Wednesday 7 December 2016

Martin O'Neill has just one 90 minute training session to turn around Ireland's fortunes

John Brennan in Versailles

Published 19/06/2016 | 14:49

Republic of Ireland head coach Martin O'Neill
Republic of Ireland head coach Martin O'Neill

The Irish Tricolour has flown alongside the French one at Versailles Town Hall every day the Irish football team has held its camp here.

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It's a lovely gesture from the town's bosses on behalf of its people who have taken the Irish side to heart during their stay.

Whether it will still be there at the weekend or gone by Thursday morning depends on Martin O'Neill producing one of the finest managerial jobs of his career and somehow inspiring this Irish team, so broken in the second half against Belgium on Saturday, to somehow beat Italy in Lille on Wednesday night.

And he has precisely one training session in which to work his magic.

O'Neill gave the players who were in action yesterday the day off, just giving those who got no game against the Belgians a light run out.

And, for the third time in ten days, there was no formal media activity yesterday, just FAI statements.

Tuesday's pre-match training in the soggy Lille stadium will just be a run out. So that leaves the Irish boss with an hour and a half tomorrow morning to weave his magic.

Does he change formation and give Shane Long support in a 4-4-2. Should the bustling Daryl Murphy come in, or is there one last bit of magic in Robbie Keane's legs.

The team captain only got 20 minutes in Paris - he has to be ready to give it one last shot at football glory.

Will O'Neill risk putting Wes Hoolahan as a central midfielder in that 4-4-2, thus giving his team a chance of scoring goals, but conceding them too.

And, while we'll have a back four, have either Richard Keogh or Shane Duffy earned the chance to start a match at these Euros.

That is what the boss must decide and when he decides what he will do, he has that 90 minutes work tomorrow to drill it into his players' heads.

While Italian manager Antonio Conte will makes changes to the team that won the Azzurri's first two matches, and is now assured of topping the group on the head-to-head rule, it will only be a case of bringing in Roma and Torino players for Juventus and Napoli ones.

But all the Italian players will be warned to avoid disciplinary issues in a match that does not matter to them.

How ironic it is that, four years ago in Poznan, Ireland were playing dead rubber and Italy were desperately seeking the win to get into the knock-out phase. This time it is exactly the other way around.

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