| 7°C Dublin

O'Neill to cast his net wider


Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

MARTIN O'NEILL says he wants to use Ireland's end-of-season programme to run his eye over as many players as possible.

While his predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni kept things relatively tight in the early days of his reign, O'Neill's use of his squad has been a bit more expansive: Trapattoni used 21 players in his first three games in charge, back in 2008, but in the first three matches of the O'Neill regime, the Derry man has handed out caps to 27 different players, with another five players bench-bound as they were in the squad under O'Neill but did not get any game time against Latvia, Poland and Serbia.


O'Neill and his staff are still in discussions with the FAI hierarchy to work out details of just what to do at the end of the current season. So far, only one game, a friendly at home to Turkey, has been confirmed, while a game against Italy in London a week later is all but agreed.

Games in the USA against Costa Rica (June 7) and Portugal (June 10) are in the mix and those associations state that those matches are confirmed. The official website of the Portuguese FA even has the venue and kick-off time for a match against Ireland in New Jersey, while tickets for the game (starting at $50) are on sale through Ticketmaster in the US.

O'Neill again insists that the extra games, against Costa Rica and Portugal, are yet to be agreed upon but that he is keen to have matches before the season ends to run his eye over potential players.

"We have a couple of friendly matches at the end of the season. There's a possibility at this minute of maybe even a few extra games, but that has not been confirmed yet," said O'Neill.

"But a bit like Scotland in that sense, we are concentrating really on trying to implement some sort of a plan, trying to see as much of the players as we possibly can.

"This period we will have at the end of the season, while not ideal for players, is absolutely fine for us and, of course, it's an opportunity to see as many players as possible."

O'Neill is well aware of the long gap – five weeks – between the end of the regular season in the Championship and the proposed Portugal match, and it's unclear how many of Ireland's established players will still be in camp by the time that June 10 game against Portugal in New Jersey goes ahead.

O'Neill may also be reminded that the last time Ireland had a two-game series of matches in the US at the end of a club season, eight players from the original 23-man squad never made it to America. That could see squad regulars miss out on that trip Stateside and open the door for others to either kick-start, or simply start, their international careers.

Players like Stephen Hunt, Keith Treacy, Andy Keogh, Darren O'Dea and Simon Cox have slid down the pecking order recently and have not even made the squad in the last few months (though Cox was recalled for the Serbia game earlier this month but was not used), but they still have international ambitions

Others, such as Willo Flood (Aberdeen), Gavin Gunning (Dundee United), Eunan O'Kane (Bournemouth) and Shaun Williams (Millwall) could get the nod, while stars of the current U21 squad such as Shane Duffy (inset), Seán Murray and Jack Grealish could earn promotion.

Meanwhile, O'Neill has again reflected on the 2-1 defeat to Serbia.

"We have had three games – the two games in November-time were in quick succession, at home to Latvia, which we would expect to win anyway and we did; the draw in Poland was fine, and although for long periods against Serbia, I thought we played very well and possibly could have won the game, we lost the match.We have got plenty to discuss."