Monday 11 December 2017

O'Neill ready to do talking as France beckons

Ireland boss won't bring in motivational speakers

Aiden McGeady warms up during training in Abbotstown. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Aiden McGeady warms up during training in Abbotstown. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

And so it begins. Day 1 in the Irish Big Brother house and Martin O'Neill is unimpressed by the suggestion that his players could suffer from boredom.

"How can you get bored at the Euros?" he asked, incredulously. "You can't, although some of my group are very boring anyway."

With a smile, he touched on a topic that did become a talking point four years ago during Giovanni Trapattoni's intensive regime.

Much as O'Neill will take a dim view of any complaints about cabin fever, he is doing things differently with a view to getting the recovery right.

There will be breaks between now and the flight to France on June 8. After Friday's friendly with Holland, the group get the weekend off before the training camp in Cork. That gathering in Fota will include a golf day and there will be another couple of days of rest at the end of it while O'Neill and assistant Roy Keane go to Sweden to watch their June 5 friendly with Wales.

The 64-year-old is also looking to bring in some entertainment to the team hotel, although he declined to divulge the identity of the special guest.


But he will not be going down the road of inviting an inspirational speaker in from another code - unlike his Northern Irish counterpart Michael O'Neill, who welcomed Rory McIlroy to their Carton House base yesterday.

"Is it very obvious from my face it hasn't crossed my mind," said the Derry man.

"A few years ago - I don't know if I was managing Aston Villa or Celtic or whoever it was - I used to get loads of letters coming in from psychologists, psychiatrists, and they would like to come in to speak to the players because they believed they could help the players along, and I used to think 'yeah that's my job'.

"What I always found with these psychologists is that on their CV they always say how well they've done with a club. A year later, that team gets relegated and they're not there any more, they've moved on to another club which appears on their CV.

"Then, the manager gets the sack but the psychologist didn't. It doesn't mean I couldn't get somebody in to entertain the people. But I'm not really thinking of that. I think that's my job."

When it comes down to the serious business in France, those abilities will be tested. For now, it's his judgement on personnel-related matters that will be keeping his mind occupied. And they will fill his press conferences too.

O'Neill was in good form at his first one, relaxed enough to chat afterwards about a trip to the cinema last week to watch Meryl Streep star in her new movie Florence Foster Jenkins. The only downside, he says, was that tickets cost £18 a pop.

He loved the movie but wouldn't recommend it to his squad. "I'll get them to watch Action Man," he quipped, adding that it might stir the right emotions.

The next seven days will be tough as he will have to break bad news to six members of his group. He's already called Paul McShane, Anthony Pilkington, Jonny Hayes and Alex Pearce to tell them they won't be going to France unless there is an injury crisis.

Marc Wilson, a popular member of the group, has been ruled out by injury. He will come to Dublin tomorrow to see his team-mates and wish them all the best.

O'Neill had planned to confirm his 23 on Saturday but is thinking about waiting until after the Belarus game next Tuesday. That could give play-off players David Forde, Keiren Westwood and David Meyler a chance to make an impact at Turner's Cross and sway the manager, although that is by no means guaranteed at this stage, particularly in the goalkeeping department as both Darren Randolph and Shay Given would benefit from game-time.

The manager has told Kevin Doyle to stay in America and line out for Colorado Rapids this weekend because he was unlikely to figure against Holland on Friday, but hehas taken a different approach with Robbie Keane.

"I felt the best thing for Kevin would be play another for Colardo this weekend and then come in for the Belarus game and he agreed with it. But Robbie is the captain and his presence is needed pretty much needed immediately."

The striking department is complicated as Ipswich pair Daryl Murphy and David McGoldrick require extra fitness work. Shane Long, Jon Walters and Keane should travel and there might only be one more place up for grabs depending on how O'Neill views the crowded midfield picture.

Defensively, Wilson's misfortune has opened the door for Blackburn's Shane Duffy to go as the fourth centre-half behind John O'Shea, Richard Keogh and Ciaran Clark.

"Young Duffy has come to the fore and done really fine and has a chance over the coming days to try and stake a claim," said O'Neill.

Harry Arter is present and the Holland match will be very important for the Bournemouth regular. He will win his second cap in that fixture, although he's by no means a certain starter.

A thigh complaint could rule out James McCarthy from Friday's fixture. The early indications from scans have provided no fears about the Euros, although O'Neill refused to tempt fate by confidently declaring as much.

"I like Harry as a player and I think he can give us something," he stressed. "He got back in at the back end of the season and I will have a look at it.

"Friday might be an opportunity. If he doesn't start he will get some time on the field. And if it means that there is pressure on certain players to do well, well if it is coming down to this late hour, then they just have to live with that pressure."

Aiden McGeady appears to be safe even though he has fallen so badly out of favour at loan club Sheffield Wednesday that he is here this week instead of preparing for the play-off final. O'Neill has always kept faith in the Glaswegian.

"I would be really surprised if Aiden is having a tete a tete with a manager who hasn't picked him," he joked, with a knowing grin. "Now that he is here we may as well get some work out of him."

That message extends to the rest of the group that is short of match practice. Today's training session in the Aviva Stadium is open to the public, but it won't be an exhibition for them as they knuckle down with their eyes on the prize.

Irish Independent

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