Saturday 25 February 2017

Martin O'Neill: If it gets too feisty, we can just call it off

Boss says training game with Northern Ireland will not cross the line

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Martin O'Neill's relaxed demeanour in front of the press indicated that he expects a cordial meeting with the Northern Ireland squad today
Martin O'Neill's relaxed demeanour in front of the press indicated that he expects a cordial meeting with the Northern Ireland squad today

With a smile, Martin O'Neill considers the question of whether today's training game with Northern Ireland is in danger of becoming too feisty.

After all, he does have a few players in his ranks who didn't exactly endear themselves to the football community north of the border by switching their allegiance.

If there was a crowd in attendance, then James McClean would be guaranteed to hear a few choice words from visiting fans. In reality, there should be little scope for real tension developing in a match that is doing both groups a favour. There should still be life in it, however.

"I think there will be," said the Irish manager. "And the great thing about it is that we can haul it up any time. We can call a halt to proceedings. We're down to start at 1.00pm and we could be finished by ten past very easily."

His comments drew a laugh and his relaxed demeanour indicated that he expects a cordial meeting with the country that he represented at a World Cup, a mood which is in keeping with the relationship that he enjoys with his counterpart Michael O'Neill.

They will be able to study proceedings today without having to worry about background noise or the media duties that can eat up time on match days. Nor will they have to be concerned about restrictions on making changes.

Aside from injury doubts Wes Hoolahan and Jonathan Walters and late arrival Darren Randolph - who is on family duty in the USA - the hosts will give a run-out to every squad member present.

That's 23 players to be spread across an exercise that will last for 90 minutes but could be split into two halves or three thirds. A photographer will capture proceedings and a handful of sponsors will be present in addition to a smattering of officials. The private setting will allow O'Neill and Roy Keane to dabble with certain formations.

His priority is to field individuals that have been out of action since the Championship season finished on May 2.

Therefore, goalkeepers David Forde and Keiren Westwood, defenders Alex Pearce, Richard Keogh and Cyrus Christie and midfielders McClean, Harry Arter and Jeff Hendrick should expect long auditions.

David McGoldrick was unable to contribute to Ipswich's play-off challenge and will be anticipating a lengthy run-out. Chopping and changing is high on the 63-year-old's agenda.

This is because he knows that the nature of the England match on Sunday may not be compatible with experimentation. Indeed, it's more plausible that will be a dry run for Scotland although he has refused to confirm that.

"I think that game is prestigious enough for us to be really wanting to have a go," said O'Neill, who again reiterated his hope that the visit of Roy Hodgson's charges passes without controversy. Respect for the national anthems will be the starting point for a successful event.

"That will be a proper game and that'll be great," he continued. "England will want to go into their final game in the summer (qualifier v Slovenia) not having being beaten by us. Serious injuries apart, there will be time to recover before the Scotland game."

The result from Sunday will go down in the record books whereas today's outcome will quickly be forgotten.

A clean bill of health is all that really matters.

Irish Independent

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