Tuesday 25 July 2017

O'Neill aiming to strike right balance

Uruguay friendly key dress rehearsal for Austria

Martin O’Neill arrives for yesterday’s squad announcement at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Martin O’Neill arrives for yesterday’s squad announcement at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Friendlies in June are tricky enough affairs, so when a crucial World Cup qualifier is added to the mix, an international manager's job becomes that bit more testing.

The roller-coaster of emotions that players are dealing with at the climax of the club season can make it difficult to maintain the focus for one final game before they can really start thinking about the beach.

That is among the challenges facing Martin O'Neill over the next month before Austria arrive on June 11, but the Ireland boss is also tasked with ensuring that players are given enough game-time to get up to speed.

Several of the players included in O'Neill's 38-man squad for next month's two friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay and the qualifier against Austria haven't played a huge amount of football in recent weeks.

The squad will return to Fota Island next week and as preparations ramp up, O'Neill has a few unwelcome headaches to contend with.

Absence

Seamus Coleman's absence leaves a significant hole at full-back. Doubts still hang over James McCarthy's fitness, while Darren Randolph has lost his place between West Ham's sticks.

Then there are the striking concerns. Despite his sensational goal-scoring form for Cork City, Sean Maguire was overlooked. As was Cillian Sheridan, who has hit the ground running in Poland.

O'Neill has also not managed to make any inroads with Aston Villa's Scott Hogan, whose international future is still very much up in the air.

"It has always been a strange time," O'Neill conceded. "From personal experience, I know it as a player, you finish the season, have a day or two off and then you meet up for an international.

"We (Northern Ireland) had a World Cup game in June, trying to qualify for '82 and we lost to Sweden. I remember talking to Pat Jennings and he thought that would be it.

"About 10 days later in June, Portugal went there and Sweden hammered them. It wasn't a surprise for me. June is an awkward time but they are for everyone, it's just the way it is."

Read more: Martin O'Neill names Kevin Long in Ireland squad for crucial qualifier against Austria but no room for Sean Maguire

The feeling is that any experimenting will be done in the friendly against Mexico in New Jersey while three days later, the Uruguayan clash will provide O'Neill with a dress rehearsal for Austria.

"It's an awkward one considering the Championship finished so early but if we get these couple of days in, it will be a great help," he continued.

"The Championship boys won't have played for a long time. Little (Eunan) O'Kane, (Stephen) Gleeson, I'm not sure they've started a game since we left in March.

"I need a couple of these boys. I need Cyrus Christie for instance, he didn't start all the games for Derby.

"You've people like (Richard) Keogh, (Alex) Pearce, who've finished a couple of weeks ago. They're conscientious lads but it's about going away for a week or two with family but not getting into holiday mode.

"Do you remember we had the England game before the Scotland match?

"If you asked me these questions at the time, I thought 'Well there are still places up for grabs' and there will be places up for grabs but if this the only opportunity, if for instance a group of the Premier League players didn't go to America, then this (Uruguay) is the only chance they will get other than the little bit of training.

"So you would think that we will be trying to aim for as many of the players as possible."

Ample

McCarthy will be given ample time to prove his fitness and while O'Neill won't rush him back, he stood firm in the statement that he released at the end of March in which he branded Ronald Koeman as a "master tactician of the blame game".

"I don't think that any little spat between two managers - if that's what you call it - should really impact on the player," O'Neill insisted.

"The player's relationship with his club manager is obviously vital. And I think their manager apportioned some blame to the player for not dealing with the situation himself.

"But it came out that it was really my responsibility to look after James. I thought at the time - it (statement) was a spur of the moment thing and I thought it was quite good - that apportioning blame to someone who has not been at their training ground for maybe 25 years. I think they should look inwards rather than outwards.

"That was the point and I still have the same opinion."

Republic of Ireland squad

Goalkeepers: C Doyle (Bradford), R Elliot (Newcastle Utd), K Westwood (Sheffield Wed), D Randolph (West Ham)

Defenders: C Christie, R Keogh, A Pearce (Derby Co), P McShane (Reading), S Duffy (Brighton ), J O'Shea (Sunderland), A Boyle (Preston), J Egan (Brentford), M Wilson (West Brom), K Long, S Ward (Burnley), M Doherty (Wolves)

Midfielders: A McGeady (Everton), G Whelan (Stoke City), J Hendrick, R Brady (Burnley), H Arter (Bournemouth), C Hourihane (Aston Villa), S Gleeson (Birmingham City), E O'Kane (Leeds), D Gibson (Sunderland), L Kelly (Reading), W Hoolahan (Norwich), J McClean (West Brom), J McCarthy (Everton), C O'Dowda (Bristol City), D Horgan (Preston), J Hayes (Aberdeen)

Forwards: K Doyle (Colorado Rapids), D McGoldrick (Ipswich), D Murphy (Newcastle Utd), S Long (Southampton), J Walters (Stoke City), A Rooney (Aberdeen)

Irish Independent

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