Monday 20 November 2017

Decision time draws ever closer for Martin O'Neill and his Euro 2016 squad

Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

A trip to Paris for a workshop to discuss the planned operations for Euro 2016 wouldn't necessarily be filed under the heading of pleasure, but it reminded Martin O'Neill that the real business is drawing closer.

He recognised as much on Tuesday night when reports came through of Irish players in the wars for their respective employers.

Luckily for O'Neill, who was in Paris to mark the 100-day countdown to the Euros, Shane Long, John O'Shea and Harry Arter look to have incurred knocks that will only be of short-term significance - although the latter cannot afford any setbacks ahead of the friendlies with Switzerland and Slovakia later this month.

It could be much worse for the Irish supremo. His Northern Irish counterpart Michael O'Neill, who was also present at the UEFA gathering, is coming to terms with the cruciate injury suffered by West Brom's Chris Brunt that has dashed his dreams.

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill with FAI Chief Executive John Delaney and assistant manager Roy Keane in Versailles last December Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill with FAI Chief Executive John Delaney and assistant manager Roy Keane in Versailles last December Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

For the elder O'Neill, it offered a reminder that the phone could ring with bad news at any minute. "Every injury that's reported to you, you're wondering, 'Could this be it?'" he admitted, "And, of course, in terms of time to recover, it's getting less and less so it's a major concern."

At the moment, he's relatively low on reasons to be stressed. Marc Wilson is due to miss the Dublin double-header with a knee problem but he is scheduled to return to the Stoke fold before the end of the season.

His club colleague Shay Given is back in light training after a trip to Qatar for extra rehabilitation and a meeting with a specialist to discuss the complicated knee problem he sustained in October's defeat of Germany.

O'Neill is keeping a watching brief there and also wants to speak to Darron Gibson to find out the reasons for his inactivity at Everton.

O'Neill's French trip allowed him to learn about the organisational side of the summer jamboree. Coaches also got the opportunity to speak to chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina about any queries regarding the laws of the game with the interpretation of the handball rule a hot topic at the moment.

It's the rules and deadlines that will be set internally by the Irish camp which fill his thinking time at the moment, though, not least the issue of when to name his squad and how to handle the breaking of hearts when it comes to chopping numbers.

He is set to keep the group guessing until the last moment, confirming that it is likely to involve sending players home after the May 27 friendly with Holland at the Aviva.


The working plan is to kick off summer preparations with a larger group than the 23-man panel that he will have to select on UEFA's June 1 deadline.

His predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni put hopefuls out of their misery early by naming his selection over a month before Euro 2012, although he ended up having to make a controversial last-minute switch which saw Kevin Foley replaced by Paul McShane.

O'Neill will hedge in case he picks up injuries in the period around the Dutch game, and thinks having a range of options present in camp would be preferable to offering an SOS to individuals that had already suffered the pain of rejection.

"I think I may have to look at doing that," he said. "You could pick 23 players and then go into the Dutch game and get four injuries. You are then bringing in three or four players who were left out of the first squad. So just expect 60 players for the Holland game!"

He acknowledged that it will be a difficult process because of the commitment shown by the entire group in the qualifying campaign.

"Of course it will be but that's the name of the game," he said. "It won't be just as easy as club level where you didn't mind doing that. Actually at club level, there were some players I enjoyed leaving out of the squad.

"I can't say it will be the same here for the Republic boys who have come here with big hearts, wanting to play. There has always been a bit of disappointment when some players have not made the starting line-up.

"Eventually when the 23 is announced, there will be one or two where it will be tough to leave them out. I think I would want to explain it to them.

"At club level, because it's part of your day, you don't have explanations all the time but here, absolutely, I would try and explain it. They might not agree with my explanation."

That will add intrigue to the early days in the hotel but, once the final party moves onto the base in Versailles, O'Neill will have no sympathy for players that complain of boredom.

Security will be tight around team hotels which might limit interaction levels with fans and family but, in contrast to Trapattoni, the pre-French aspect of the warm-up will include days off and opportunities to see the nearest and dearest.

"In terms of this boredom, I don't really understand this, the suggestion it does happen and the very fact it might happen," said O'Neill. "You can be bored for the rest of your life, just don't be bored for a month.

"We will have time to see families when we're in Fota. The minute we hit France it will have to be total concentration on the games, absolutely. And, of course, if we progress, they will have the opportunity to see people. But once we're in France, I don't think there will be time to get bored. That's just my view."

Irish Independent

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