Monday 19 March 2018

Martin O'Neill: 'I don't want every game decided by set-pieces - there needs to be fun'

Martin O’Neill knows the importance of set plays. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin O’Neill knows the importance of set plays. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

Set-pieces - in attack and defence - will be central to Ireland's Euro 2016 strategy. So says manager Martin O'Neill, as he prepares to name his final 23-man squad for the tournament.

All of Ireland's goals since Robbie Brady's brilliant opener in Bosnia-Herzegovina last November have been as a result of set-plays. Three penalties have been converted, while set-piece deliveries by Brady, such as his corner on Friday for Shane Long's goal against Holland, resulted in the three others.

Equally, O'Neill is relying on defensive solidity at the opposite end to repel Sweden, Belgium and Italy next month. Ireland's two defeats during the qualifying campaign involved the concession of goals from corners.

"I said to the players at start of the competition, regardless of what happens, if we don't concede a goal from a set-piece - which was at 10 games at that time - we'll qualify," O'Neill explained ahead of Tuesday's final friendly against Belarus in Cork. "We ended up conceding two set-piece goals over the 12 games (including the play-off) - against Scotland and Poland.

"That was a big statement to make at the start of the campaign, because there was a lot of games, but set-pieces have become very important and you have to defend them.

"I didn't hear people tell me after we got beaten by Scotland that the only thing that divided us was a set-piece goal which we fell asleep for. Not at all - there were big statements about how the game went, but it could have gone either way.

"I bet that Barcelona, for all their brilliance, get concerned at corners because some big lad might just come up to out-jump them and all their fantastic work gets outdone. I don't want to get done by them, so we might as well practise them."

O'Neill was keen to stress his team possess the creativity to be potent in open play, and that they are not just one- dimensional.

"I don't want every single game to be decided by a set-piece, because they take the fun out of the games and you want to be able to play," he said.

Meanwhile, Kevin Doyle will be given every chance to book his place in the final squad on Tuesday despite embarking on a transatlantic flight today following last night's game for Colorado Rapids.

With Shane Long, Daryl Murphy and Robbie Keane certainties to make the cut, it appears O'Neill will choose between Doyle and David McGoldrick for the last striker's slot.

"Robbie Keane and Daryl Murphy will start against Belarus and we'll find a place for Doyler. We can fit him in," the manager said. "David [McGoldrick] is just searching for that proper fitness from what I call 'big matches'. That game against Holland was a big match for him.

"I didn't want players playing under pressure against Holland, if that's what they felt, but if they couldn't deal with that pressure on Friday there's not much chance of them dealing with the pressure out in France."

Meanwhile, Will Grigg has been included in Northern Ireland's 23-man squad for the tournament. Grigg scored 25 goals for Wigan as the Latics won the League One title, and he opened his international account in Friday night's 3-0 win over Belarus. The striker earned the nod over Wigan team-mate Billy McKay and Ross County's Liam Boyce, who scored 20 times this season.

"Will just kept scoring, has 28 goals, is in a good place and his club has been promoted," said manager Michael O'Neill. "Then he stepped on to the pitch last night and scored again. It was a difficult decision, but I think it's the right one."

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