Thursday 22 February 2018

Republic of Ireland hopefuls have two games to impress - Martin O'Neill

Martin O'Neill's Republic side face Switzerland and Slovakia over the Easter weekend with places still up for grabs
Martin O'Neill's Republic side face Switzerland and Slovakia over the Easter weekend with places still up for grabs

Martin O'Neill has warned his Republic of Ireland hopefuls they have just two games in which to force their way into his Euro 2016 finals squad.

The Republic face Switzerland and Slovakia in Dublin friendlies over the Easter weekend with places still up for grabs and O'Neill is ready to take a look at some of his fringe players.

But with only one more game currently scheduled before the squad departs for France, a home clash with Holland on May 27 - although there remains the possibility that another could be squeezed into the schedule - time is running out fast for latecomers to make an impression, as winger James McClean did four years ago.

Asked if he already had one eye on the future as he contemplated the retirement of some of his senior stalwarts, O'Neill said: "I think it's something we should look at, yes, but if you're asking me, no, it's everything really focused on the Euros.

"After these two games, that means we are down then to the Dutch game - there's a possibility of trying to organise another match as well after the Holland game, that's something we are thinking about - but then really after these two games, it's finalising a certain number of players and hoping they come through unscathed in the next couple of months.

"But I want to see a couple of the lads. The Euros are just around the corner, you are talking about very little break-time after that and then going into the World Cup qualifiers.

"One or two players, I am quite sure, the older players, might feel as though this is their last tournament, so I just want players to be prepared and be ready so if they step into the international arena, they are not over-awed by it."

Wolves defender Matt Doherty, Bournemouth midfielder Eunan O'Kane, Birmingham's Stephen Gleeson, Brentford midfielder Alan Judge and Aberdeen's Jonathan Hayes are among those who will hope for a taste of the action, although for some, that will simply amount to training with the senior squad at Abbotstown.

But O'Neill is adamant that, while several places in his squad are already taken barring injury, there are others which are yet to be nailed down.

He said: "There are one or two players there who have shown their worth in the qualification games to me and to themselves and to the nation and barring injury, there's a really great chance of them going, obviously.

"But there are other places up for grabs."

O'Neill, like predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni, has had to contend with some of his players struggling to force their way into their club sides, and he applauded Everton midfielder Aiden McGeady's decision to join Sky Bet Championship Sheffield Wednesday on loan in the search for regular football ahead of the finals.

He said: "He took that gamble to do it, which was great. He's just getting a bit of proper what I would call match-fitness now."

Nineteen-year-old midfielder Jack Byrne, currently on loan to Dutch side Cambuur from Manchester City, trained with the senior squad rather than the under-21s on Monday having earlier voiced the opinion in an on-line interview that he felt he could influence games at any level.

O'Neill said with a smile: "I was speaking to him there and he certainly doesn't lack confidence. He said that he felt he could influence the game, did he? Oh, well.

"He might be dumped on his backside tomorrow by a couple of the senior players. Good luck to him. Once I let the senior players know that he has been on-lining...

"I'll have a wee word with Glenn Whelan about that. If you see him being carted off tomorrow, you'll know that the boys have read the on-line stuff."

Press Association

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