Saturday 17 March 2018

O'Neill: Friendlies are competitive

Martin O'Neill's, left, Republic of Ireland take on Turkey, Italy, Costa Rica and Portugal over the next three weeks
Martin O'Neill's, left, Republic of Ireland take on Turkey, Italy, Costa Rica and Portugal over the next three weeks

Martin O'Neill has warned his Republic of Ireland players they are not just meeting up for an end-of-season jolly.

The Republic will take on Turkey and World Cup bound Italy, Costa Rica and Portugal over the next three weeks with one eye very firmly on the start of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign in September.

O'Neill is making no apologies for choosing testing opponents at the end of a long campaign for most of his men, and while results may not be the be all and end all, he is looking to head into the qualifiers on a high.

He said: "Regardless of whether you are playing a friendly match or not, you want to win the games. The games that we have chosen are particularly difficult.

"I wasn't choosing the matches to try to improve the co-efficient for ourselves and things like that. They couldn't come anymore difficult.

"But for me, you obviously still want to win it. There will be a bit of experimentation too, but overall they will be competitive and we would like to try to do well in them.

"You wouldn't want to be going into September on the back of a very poor run."

The get-together will give O'Neill his longest spell yet with his players, and he has been delighted with the commitment they have shown in turning up, and also the intensity produced in their first training session in Malahide on Thursday afternoon.

He said: "For me, it's terrific in the sense that I have the players for this length of time.

"Of course, it's a lengthy period for the players, but they are very, very keen. They want to do it and the games that we have are very, very strong too.

"I don't think it will be anything to do with the type of friendly match you might have considered it beforehand, considering some of these sides that we are playing will be going straight into the World Cup.

"Overall, I'm very, very pleased I have got this chance now to work with the players, and while I don't want to be driving them mad with three training sessions per day, especially after a long, hard time - I want it to be enjoyable, but I want us to do some work as well."

Only David Meyler, who underwent a scan on a niggling calf problem, skipper Robbie Keane, who will join up with the squad when they head for the United States next month, Derby trio Richard Keogh, Jeff Hendrick and Conor Sammon and QPR striker Kevin Doyle - all four of whom are in play-off final action this weekend - were missing from the first session.

Among those who did train was Everton winger Aiden McGeady, who is acutely aware that the four games could hold the key to nailing down a place in the starting XI for September's opener against Georgia.

McGeady said: "This will be the last few games before the first competitive games come up at the start of next season, so it's everyone's last chance to really impress, and the manager's chance to see who should be in his starting team and the way he's going to play.

"These next few weeks will be important. It's an end-of-season trip, but it will be important for the manager and the players as well.

"Everyone is playing for a place in every international. You don't meet up very often.

"The manager and (assistant) Roy (Keane) go to games and see players play, but really what you have to do is when you get the chance, you have to try to grab it and take it with both hands - and that goes for every game, qualifier, friendly, whatever.

"These friendlies, people will probably think it will be an end-of-season affair, a slow tempo, people just looking forward to their holidays.

"But I know for a fact that whoever is playing for Ireland will give everything they have got to try to impress and try to win the game."

Press Association

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