Saturday 16 December 2017

Long: We're in a much better place this time

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill with the squad during training in Fota Island Resort, Fota Island, Cork. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill with the squad during training in Fota Island Resort, Fota Island, Cork. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Roy Keane is focusing his attention on Sweden. Photo: Sportsfile

Miguel Delaney

Shane Long believes Ireland are in a "better place" to do themselves justice in this European Championship than four years ago, and says "cabin fever" afflicted Giovanni Trapattoni's team ahead of the trip to Poland in 2012.

The Southampton striker revealed that Martin O'Neill consulted the players about pre-tournament preparations from the last qualification and, while reluctant to criticise the Italian's set-up, Long thinks the balance is better this time. Whereas Trapattoni brought the squad to the Italian town of Montecatini, almost locking them away in the Serie A custom of a 'ritiro', O'Neill has allowed them much more time off around the Fota Island resort.

And Long feels that, and being back in Ireland, has helped the mood in the squad and made the side better prepared to make amends for the "regrets" of 2012.

"It was a bit of cabin fever before we did actually get to the Euros," the 29-year-old said of Euro 2012. "The manager here actually asked us about that and how we could change it and stuff. The players had a say. Maybe that's the only thing we changed but we definitely approached it the right way [in 2012].

"I think, after the last Euros, anyone here that was involved would say it was just regrets after the games. We didn't do ourselves justice. We scored one goal and, you know, it was frustrating. We've worked hard to get here again and we don't want the same feeling afterwards. We're in a better place this time, we've got a lot of good players and a good team and a really close squad.

"I think we can cause upsets. It is nice to go into the [tournament] as a bit of an underdog and we will be fully prepared once we get there. And that first game [against Sweden] is massive. If we can get a good result there, that sets us up then."

Assistant manager Roy Keane also emphasised the importance of Ireland's opening match in Paris next Monday and, appearing to try and temper his criticism as a pundit in 2012, he said a lot of the problems of that campaign were down to losing the first game to Croatia 3-1.

"There has been a few things said over the last few years about the mentality at the last Euros," said Keane. "That was a tough group for Ireland. I don't think for one minute the last squad were thinking they were going over there for a sing-song. No, they went over there and had a bad start. It's very hard to recover from that. I don't want to come across as critical of the previous squad, they did well, but it was a very tough group. I don't sense that [fear] in the group, I don't sense that among the lads who were in the last group that the mindset has changed that much. The last group went over thinking they could get out of the group and we have the mindset as well. That's why the first game is so important, it's the same for every country. Unless you're one of the top countries in the world, [where] you can recover from a setback because you have x brilliant players. We know how tight it will be and that we've got to get something on the board."

Keane also praised O'Neill's experienced approach to management and believes some of his principles are wrongly being eroded from the game, in what partially seemed a mischievous barb at certain modern managers with "a tan and really white teeth".

"He's vastly experienced, he has a good way with the players. He knows his football. A lot of managers I've worked with are really good managers and know what to say at the right time . . . that seems to be coming into the game more so in England with the amount of foreign owners, particularly the Americans, they seem to love a coach who's got the whistle around his neck, a clipboard and a tan and really white teeth. That gives you a chance.

"Obviously Martin is old school, he likes to manage the club, whereas a lot of clubs are employing. . . even on their contracts now, they're classed as coaches. That's just the way the game has gone, certainly in the last two, three years. I think it's sad because a lot of clubs don't need coaches, they need good managers."

Meanwhile, Jon Walters expects to be back in full training tomorrow, after a bout of tendinitis forced him into the gym over the last week. "I had an operation on my knee probably about seven weeks ago and when you tend to come back you have secondary little things," Walters said. "I had tendinitis in both Achilles. On the training ground it flares up a little bit and you've just got to settle it down. You don't want to push through and then going into the week leading up to the game pushing yourself through. If you have a chance to settle, that's what I've done."

Sunday Independent

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