Stephen Hunt: Roy should have kept his comments in-house and deep down a few will be hurt
Published 05/06/2016 | 13:00
So many of the Irish players will have waited so long for this tournament, going back much further than the last six months, and that's also part of the reason why the next eight days are going to feel like the longest of their careers.
The squad are going to have to find a way to think about something else - anything else - other than the first game against Sweden. That's the key at this stage of the build-up. It's almost impossible not to keep turning your mind to that match, visualising how it might go over and over, and trying to envisage positive pieces of play; every way that you might be able to have an impact. So, to keep your mind fresh and sharp, you need to occupy it with different things. It's just that the whole setting around a tournament doesn't actually help.
That's the contradiction at this point. The obvious excitement and buzz at reaching this new stage quickly gives way to the monotonous routine of getting ready for it. Every day is just long. Long and repetitive. You have food at the same times every day, for example, and it all becomes so routine you're almost always looking forward to the next meal just to count down the days. That's what it's like.
The food is controlled by Dave Steele and he normally gets stick after day five or six because the nature of the nutrition means the diet can be repetitive too. "This isn't good enough, Dave"; but it's all in good humour. I don't actually know how many calories we're allowed per day, but we always have to eat a lot of carbs for energy and protein for recovery.
TV box-sets become a big thing, with lads discussing what to watch and comparing what's good. I remember Love/Hate was popular before Euro 2012. You end up discussing news, the latest club gossip, when the family is arriving - players are human after all! Having some hours off does make it easier to deal with, and it's great to have some time with the kids too. You've also got to pass out some tickets, of course.
If you are in France, or if you see any of the players around Dublin over the next few days, one word of advice: talk to them about anything except football - it's the last thing they'll want to discuss.
The irony at this point, of course, is that you don't even have other games on TV right now to just enjoy. Watching a bit of golf was great for me and, with the nature of the group, there's always a bit of competition, especially with table tennis. Paul Green did my head in for weeks leading up to Euro 2012. He was excellent and boys were just lining up to take him down. Once the squad get wind of who is the champ this time, they'll be the same, cheered on by the rest of the lads.
It's difficult not to let things drift back towards the Euros and the opposition. You read up on everything being said about them, and end up watching stuff on certain players.
I remember with Trap, he'd have clips of the full-backs you'd be facing and they would always look like Roberto Carlos and Dani Alves because he'd always just pick out the best things they did. I actually think it's important you don't get too wary or fearful of that, because you have to play your own game.
Roy Keane's comments last week will have broken the monotony, although I'm not sure that's entirely beneficial. He could have kept some of what he said in-house. The players will have discussed his comments and had a laugh and a joke about it, but I think deep down it will have hurt a few. People react in different ways, and some will want to prove him wrong, but others aren't that strong. Knowing Aiden McGeady, I think he'd let it slide. He has a confidence in his own ability almost bordering on arrogance, but those with his kind of quality normally do.
Some of the players in the Belarus game will have been nervous about getting picked for the squad. Roy was an exceptional player and never in that situation, but I think it's something he should remember.
As regards the squad itself, you could tell by listening to Martin O'Neill that it hurt to leave David McGoldrick out. I have heard he really likes him and, knowing his ability from Ipswich Town, I am disappointed for him. The Dutch game last week didn't do him justice and, between that and injuries this season, it was just bad luck.
He was one of the most unfortunate. Circumstances just went against him but, with the rest of those who many would have considered borderline, I think O'Neill would have planted seeds in their heads about how likely it was they would get in. He wouldn't have led anyone down the garden path. David Forde is another who will be hurting, especially since he has never let Ireland down.
I am surprised O'Neill only picked three strikers. I would have an extra one and think he could have been a little more positive. He's also left himself a little bare, with Robbie's injury. I think I'd have made that call earlier, too, and pushed him to see if he was going to be ready. It is a risk. It comes down to this: if Robbie is not back running by the time the first game comes along then he's not going to be fit for any of them. Alternatively, if you wait two games and he then breaks down, it's a waste. Sometimes people are called in late and end up being the hero.
Callum O'Dowda - the Oxford Messi as they call him - really impressed me. He must be going well in training to keep him there. What an experience for a League Two player so early in his career. He was positive, composed and fearless, getting into good positions. I don't know him but, if he is going to move up a couple of divisions - which I think he will have to do if he is playing international football - this will help him make that next step. He should find it easy if he keeps his feet on the ground. He's one for the next few years.
Years, meanwhile, are exactly what the next few days will feel like for the players. To make history for us, they've got to keep those minds fresh.