Tuesday 17 October 2017

'New deal frees our minds to give it everything'

O'Neill reluctant to discuss contract details as he focuses on opener

Shane Long tackles James McClean during a training session in Versailles Picture: Sportsfile
Shane Long tackles James McClean during a training session in Versailles Picture: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

When he realised armed guards would be accompany the Ireland team on every journey in France, Shay Given understood that this major tournament experience would be a little different.

Players always try to isolate themselves from the circus that surrounds the camp, but the security threat in France is a serious business which they really cannot ignore.

"We have a few armed guards with us," said Given. "And I wouldn't want to mess with them. That's the first time I've had that at a tournament and they are travelling everywhere with us. I suppose we'll get used to it, but it does seem a bit weird.

He admits it has led to brief moments of panic.

"A couple of times we have stopped on the bus and a few gunmen have jumped out," he explained. "It can be a little bit nerve-wracking on that front. But that's only been because there was traffic in the end."

As a senior member of the group, Given appreciates the need for the precautionary stance taken by the authorities.

"It's a difficult time in France and it's the same for every team," he reasons. "We're well protected and you have to have faith in security and French services. They are trained in this. That's what they do. We play football and they keep people safe."

So, despite the slightly unusual sight of uniformed men with guns circling around the edge of the training ground, it's business as usual for Martin O'Neill and his group.

O'Neill was guarded in his own way as he addressed the issue of his new deal for the first time. It's a deal as opposed to a contract, as a handshake with John Delaney instigated Tuesday's announcement.

The 64-year-old was reluctant to discuss the details pitchside; he pretty much brushed away questions about the timeline or any knowledge he might have on who will be paying his salary, with the FAI statement not mentioning whether businessman Denis O'Brien would be contributing.

James McClean, right, and Daryl Murphy during squad training Picture: Sportsfile
James McClean, right, and Daryl Murphy during squad training Picture: Sportsfile

O'Neill referred to Delaney's eagerness to get a deal done ahead of the tournament instead of waiting until afterwards. The manager had consistently given the impression that he was unsure about making a firm commitment in case a repeat of 2012 changed his standing.

Happy

"Well I always have that view," he said. "Always. But if that's something that the FAI wanted to do then I'm happy to go along with it."

What changed his thinking?

"John essentially was wanting to do it," he said. "He was looking for a bit of continuity like everything else. He's persuaded me to do it."

He is asked if he will definitely stay in the role, no matter what happens.

"I've shaken hands on the deal and I'm going with it. I can't really say much more than that."

The theme of one line questions and answers continued through a discussion about Roy Keane's future and a query which encouraged O'Neill to again endorse the Corkman as a successor, saying: "I wouldn't see any reason why he shouldn't."

Clearly, it was not the time and place for elaborating on the subject. Later in the day, O'Neill said he was "more than happy" with the terms and recorded an FAI video to stress that all was well.

"It's a done deal and we want to stay on," he said. "John felt for clarification, we could go over there with a free mind. The very fact we haven't put pen to paper is no intrusion whatsoever.

"If memory serves me correctly, when John asked me to sign up two and a half years ago, I signed the contract six or seven weeks later, not the day I agreed to do it.

"We've made progress and I think that's the thing John was looking for. If it frees our mind to go into competition and give it absolutely everything, then let's go and do so."

He added that the decision provides certainly for his squad, although he accepts that players are fairly accustomed to managers coming and going.

Given will not be around for the World Cup campaign, but he says the news will have relevance for the younger fringe members of the group.

"The players who will be around for the World Cup know they have to impress to get in the squad in September," he said. "It's important for Martin and Roy to have that continuity."

Shay Given during squad training Picture: Sportsfile
Shay Given during squad training Picture: Sportsfile

O'Neill's short-term focus is on ensuring everything runs smoothly in France and he was happier to elaborate on the settling in process.

"The hotel is terrific," he said. "The pitch has improved immensely. I can't ask for any better really.

"I think the players are thriving on it. In terms of the last 10 days, we were blessed with incredible weather in Cork while parts of Britain were under water and we're finding out that Paris was under water not so long ago but we're arrived here and it's terrific - we couldn't have any complaints."

There was a lively aspect to training, especially a 10 v 10 match at the end which left the audience seeking potential clues in the line-ups. With expected midfield starters Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy on opposite sides, it would be dangerous to read too much into it. Jon Walters was working alone on his Achilles problem and will be given every opportunity to demonstrate his well-being.

The stronger-looking team did have Shane Duffy next to John O'Shea in a back-four with Robbie Brady and Seamus Coleman. But if the public are guessing, it's effectively the same in the dressing-room.

Given, who is unlikely to feature barring an accident for Darren Randolph, said that the manager's approach leaves a window of hope open for all.

"He'll keep us guessing right up until kick-off," he smiled. "He's hard to read."

The path of the contract story has backed up that observation.

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