Friday 9 December 2016

Stephen Hunt: The Irish football team belongs to the whole country, not just Dublin

Published 07/02/2016 | 14:00

'Martin O'Neill is a smart manager and there may even be the occasional trip to Cork allowed, but I imagine he'd draw the line at a visit to the Jameson Distillery' Photo: Sportsfile
'Martin O'Neill is a smart manager and there may even be the occasional trip to Cork allowed, but I imagine he'd draw the line at a visit to the Jameson Distillery' Photo: Sportsfile

Euro 2012 hangs over us a lot in the build-up to this summer's European Championships. When the draw was made, people compared it to the group we had to face four years ago, but even if it was as bad, I think the attitude of the management team will be totally different.

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By the time the first game against Croatia came about, the preparation in 2012 had left us tense and crotchety. We were mentally shattered after a build-up that was too intense and provided no breaks, except the ones the players wedged in themselves. I've written about all that before and I didn't disagree with anything Kevin Doyle said last weekend either.

We spent too long away in places where there was nothing to do, so I was thrilled when Ireland's plans for Euro 2016 were announced last week.

Taking the squad to Fota for the build-up is a masterstroke. At first, I thought it was Roy getting a little bit of payback for all the slights - real and imagined - inflicted on Cork over the years, and when it comes to Cork people, even the imagined slights are real.

But there is a lot more to it than that. Fota is a beautiful place which will offer seclusion and peace, but it will also bring the team to another part of the country, which will be great for everyone.

I think the people there will respond magnificently and while some might wonder if exposing players to the excitement of the country in the days before the tournament is a good idea, I can't see anything wrong with getting a sense of how Ireland is feeling.

For the Dublin lads, it will be good for them to leave the confines of the capital as I'm not sure some of them ever have been anywhere else, while the country boys in the squad will be delighted they are heading somewhere other than Dublin.

We often played Dubs v Culchies in training sessions and those kind of things help a squad gel, even if I think these days the Culchies would walk it with players like Longy and Seamus Coleman, with Roy joining in if he's needed.

This was a big thing when I was in the squad. We owned a horse called St Devote and the syndicate was called Dubs v Culchies because there was a sense when myself, Shane and Doyler arrived in the squad that parts of the country which were GAA strongholds were now producing good footballers.

Cork has always had a great football tradition, as Roy will tell you, and this is recognition the team belongs to the whole country, not just Dublin - something which will be appreciated not only in Cork, but in Tipperary, Waterford, Galway, Donegal and other places which have provided players for the squad.

All of them will share the excitement that they are staying at a top-class facility with a golf course and other amenities. Martin O'Neill is a smart manager and there may even be the occasional trip to Cork allowed, but I imagine he'd draw the line at a visit to the Jameson Distillery.

I'm sure they'll be allowed a game of golf and I think there is a better chance of players relaxing someplace like that which is new and interesting, but also provides a certain familiarity. They will be able to get online easily; if there are any problems, they will be easily solved; and there will be the chance for the players to see their families in a relaxed environment before they go away.

Of course, the weather may not be what they'd get if they went to Spain and that could be the only problem. There are certain things that are easier to work on when you have the sun on your backs. The repetitive stuff, like working on the drills for defending set-pieces, is easier to do if you're not standing around in the lashing rain, but on the whole I think this will work brilliantly.

I'm sure Roy will be delighted, and the people of the Republic of Cork will be equally pleased to see a favourite son and the team he is now part of. Although they may not let anyone know they're pleased. That's their way.

All of this has one purpose: to make the players as ready as they can be for the Euros, and if that was lost four years ago, I think O'Neill's plans show a greater understanding of what the players want and need.

We need to be strong mentally if we are to get out of the group, not fed up before the tournament even begins, as happened in 2012.

I saw a line from Watford's manager Quique Sanchez Flores the other day where he said that a five-minute chat with a player can be as effective as 20 training sessions and I'd agree with that. In tournaments, it is as critical to know what's going on inside the players' heads as it is to watch them day-in and day-out on the training ground. The players will be fit, they need to be ready.

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