O'Neill to check Dundalk's young guns in Euro tie
MARTIN O'NEILL will take in Dundalk's Europa League tie with Hajduk Split on Thursday with a view to checking out Stephen Kenny's talented young side, but he's not convinced that European matches are the ideal method of measuring whether a player is ready to step up to the next level.
The Ireland manager has an Oriel Park visit on his immediate agenda when he returns from ITV duty in Brazil and also intends to take in an SSE Airtricity League match on Friday.
Title-chasing Dundalk's showdown with the Croatian side appeals to the Derryman, who met Kenny earlier this year in Abbotstown. The Lilywhites boss subsequently suggested that star trio Richie Towell, Daryl Horgan and Pat Hoban are capable of stepping up to international level.
However, O'Neill has warned that he would like to see more from a player than just one promising performance in a European tie.
"Maybe there might be an element that sometimes seeing a player in his own environment for a couple of weeks (is best) rather than stepping up to a game where you know that he is going to be at it from start to finish," said the Irish boss.
"It's like choosing a player from a World Cup. Don't get me wrong, I took Joos Valgaeren from Belgium after Euro 2000 and as it turned out he was splendid for us at Celtic but all the time I thought, 'am I taking on someone here simply because he was excellent in the tournament?'
"As a general rule I'd rather take them from club football than someone who is exposed because he played brilliantly in one competition and that's the best he's going to do."
O'Neill knows from personal experience that European exertions can help open doors.
Back in 1971, he was part of the Distillery side that locked horns with Barcelona and that experience helped to propel him into the Northern Ireland squad and beyond.
"That was absolutely fantastic," he recalls. "We had to play the first game at Windsor Park, we lost 3-1 and I scored the goal.
"Then we went out to Barcelona and there was only 35,000 at the game, but even so a half-empty Nou Camp was fantastic. They beat us 4-0.
"I was the up-and-coming player and the Distillery manager was saying to get the ball to me all the time and that was a big boost of confidence. Within a few weeks I got called up to the Northern Ireland squad when they had a few dropouts, George Best and a couple of others.
"Rather than turning to someone in England, they turned to an up-and-coming player in the Irish League and I got on for the last 20 minutes of that game. A week later I signed for Forest."
O'Neill said upon his appointment that he was keen to take in local matches, and not just for show either.
"I hope you don't think it's PR," stressed O'Neill, who added that he would canvass a wide array of Airtricity League managers to see if the same names kept cropping up as players to watch with a view to the long term.
"If the managers are all in agreement and there's a Venn diagram with this boy in the middle of it then I'd like to go and see him," he said.