Friday 23 March 2018

Training confusion all part of pre-game routine for Ireland boss

Shay Given describes Martin O’Neill as ‘hard to read’ Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Shay Given describes Martin O’Neill as ‘hard to read’ Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Four years ago, everyone involved with the Irish camp knew where they stood with Giovanni Trapattoni's preparations for Euro 2012.

Training always proceeded on time and on a daily basis until aggrieved players eventually went to management upon arrival in Poland to say they required a day off after a non-stop fortnight.

Media knew that the last 15 minutes of every training session would be open for the cameras and deliver firm hints on the manager's thinking.

To avoid confusion, Trapattoni effectively confirmed his starting XI for the opening match with Croatia a week in advance of the Poznan game. And we all know how that ended up.

Martin O'Neill, by contrast, appears to enjoy a healthy dose of uncertainty. A huge theme of his tenure has been the extent to which he keeps players guessing.

"He's hard to read, as you guys know yourselves," said Shay Given on Thursday.

O'Neill has lived up to that reputation in his preparation for Monday's kick-off against Sweden. The confusion surrounding yesterday's training session in Versailles is another example.

On Thursday night, a press release said it had been cancelled to give the players a 'day off to recover'.

Yesterday, it emerged that the squad actually did make the short journey to Stade de Montbauron for a light session.

The FAI later released a video which stated that it amounted to a walk, although eyewitness reports from a distance suggested there might have been a small bit more to it.

The 64-year-old is known to be unhappy with some elements of media coverage over the past fortnight, so perhaps the shuffling around of plans - which feeds conspiracy theories that there was something to hide - was nothing more than a desire to be free from press scrutiny for one day.

A missive saying that a session was going to take place behind closed doors might have provided clarity, but it would not have prevented cameras from turning up.

The chopping and changing of plans through the medium of press releases attracts curiosity - similar terms could be applied to the handling of the 'new contract' which actually turned out to be a gentleman's agreement. It's been an odd week.

During his two-and-a-half years in charge, O'Neill has regularly cancelled training at short notice and an easier day three days shy of a huge game is nothing new.

He likes to structure international weeks along the lines of what players would be used to at club level; Wednesday is generally the rest day for those sides in action on Saturday.

It's unusual to see that logic applied in the course of an international tournament, but it's in keeping with O'Neill's modus operandi.

His preference for waiting until an hour and a half before the game to announce his starting XI is borne from the same line of thought; from his perspective it served him well in qualifying so there is no need to change.

That keeps players on edge, but there is little chance that a delegation from this squad will have to come forth in this Euros to voice concerns about tired limbs.

By all accounts, the decision to stage the majority of preparations in Ireland, with weekends off factored in for extra family time, was a hit in the dressing room.

The results will shape the legacy of the preparations. Winners always write the history and, if Ireland do the business against Sweden, nothing else will matter.

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