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O'Neill set to kick-off head hunt

MARTIN O'NEILL insists that his presence at League of Ireland games in the coming season will not be a mere PR exercise.

Unlike his predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni, who seemed keen to spend as little time in Ireland as possible and hardly ever attended games in the country, O'Neill has become a regular on the domestic scene, across all levels.

The Ireland boss was in Dublin yesterday to attend the official launch of the new League of Ireland season. Last night, he went back home to Derry to attend a function celebrating the 25th anniversary of Derry City's treble triumph.

Today, he will be on a scouting mission at the Watford-Blackpool Championship tie in England where he will get to see Kevin Foley and Andy Keogh in the Blackpool side as well as Watford youngsters Sean Murray and Tommie Hoban.

But, tomorrow, it's back to Ireland, where he will meet the press in Dublin at noon and check in with his squad in Portmarnock to oversee the build-up to Wednesday's game with Serbia.

After that, he will head to Inchicore to watch the inaugural President's Cup – the Irish equivalent of the Charity Shield – between St Patrick's Athletic and Sligo Rovers, then progress to the RTÉ studios for the FAI international Awards night. Then, from tomorrow morning on, it's all about training ahead of the Serbia friendly

But by attending three LOI-related events in the space of a few days, O'Neill has shown a good deal of interest in the game here – though Roy Keane is no slouch as he recently attended a training camp in England held by the Irish U17s – and O'Neill says he is not going to games like tomorrow's just for appearance's sake.

"I'm obviously going to try and take a few games in. Hopefully, as the managers might tell me during the course of the season, it will not be a PR exercise or anything like that. I hope to see some players coming through – I actually think that they will do. And I'm really looking forward to it," O'Neill said yesterday.

"I'm coming to the President's Cup on Sunday, the start of things, and hopefully discover one or two players along the way, you never know. It's interesting that 12 players have come through (to the senior squad) from the league," added O'Neill, recalling his own playing days before his move cross-channel.

"I played in the Irish League for a team called Distillery – aptly named," joked O'Neill. "I was a young student then at Queen's University and there were five or six older members of the team at that time who hadn't been to university. It was more the university of life, like McCreggan's Pub on a Friday night before we would take part in the games on the Saturday.

"I think that (Irish) league has become more professional and hopefully down here it's become more professional as the years go on," added O'Neill, who will get to check on the claims for an international recall for Keith Fahey in tomorrow's game at Richmond Park.


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