Sport European Championships

Sunday 21 January 2018

O'Neill to keep players guessing

Martin O’Neill, chats with coaches Steve Walford, and Steve Guppy: David Maher/Sportsfile
Martin O’Neill, chats with coaches Steve Walford, and Steve Guppy: David Maher/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

With a typical dose of humour, Martin O'Neill suggests a different approach if he has to let down some physically imposing members in his list of Euro 2016 hopefuls.

"If there's one or two that's bigger than me, I'll write to them," he says, with a half smile.

The reality is that the Irish boss is planning for a situation that will require a much more direct approach. O'Neill appears to have now completely abandoned any plans to formalise his final 23 on Saturday and his preference is to confirm his squad after Tuesday's Cork friendly with Belarus - just ahead of the UEFA deadline.

He will let 90pc of his squad know the situation over the weekend without making it public but there are players who will not be included in Friday's Holland game that he wants to trial against Belarus before reaching a final decision.

In the tight confines of Turner's Cross, a venue that has presented the FAI with logistical difficulties because of their regular space requirements, finding a private place to discuss sensitive matters will be an achievement.

There's an element of damned if you do and damned if you don't about the whole equation. O'Neill had originally planned to do the deed on Saturday so he could travel to Fota Island with the 23 members of his French party and avoid the awkwardness of sending players home in the middle of a training camp.

But the 64-year-old has now looked at his numbers, particularly in the central midfield department, and reasoned that such a strategy would require making decisions without even giving players a chance to figure in the Dutch encounter. It's one thing to be cut after an audition; another to go without even getting one at all.


"If a lot of the players had played the amount of football I'd have liked then I might have made my mind up early," said O'Neill. "I'm not here to play mind games with them. Some haven't played very much so there is an international game on Friday night and Tuesday night to stake a claim."

As it stands, O'Neill has 29 players in Euros contention. One goalkeeper will have to be cut. He has eight defenders present that could all travel. It's further up the park where he faces genuine difficulty.

David Meyler, Keiren Westwood, David Forde and Kevin Doyle are absent for the Holland showdown due to club commitments. James McCarthy and Ciaran Clark are unlikely to be risked with minor injuries unless they train today.

McCarthy may not feature against Belarus either with O'Neill taking a cautious route with an important player but adamant there are no French concerns. He can afford to rest the Everton regular. Even without him, Glenn Whelan, Stephen Quinn, Jeff Hendrick, Harry Arter, Eunan O'Kane and Darron Gibson are all pushing for time on the park.

Throw the more advanced Wes Hoolahan and the versatile Robbie Brady into the picture and you can see why O'Neill will be unable to have a look at everyone in the one fixture.

He did drop a hint that one option is to sacrifice a striker to make room for an extra wide man so if four attackers are picked then David McGoldrick and Doyle will have work to do with Shane Long, Jon Walters, Robbie Keane and Daryl Murphy to the front of the queue.

"Naturally, midfield is a pretty important position to us," said O'Neill. "By Tuesday, I think I will have told quite a number of players that they will be going, and I think if I was player and my opportunity was to play on Tuesday and it was announced afterwards if I'd made it or hadn't made it, I think I'd want to take my chance on that."

Reading midfielder Quinn has admitted that he is very much on the cut line. His club colleague Paul McShane is already out and, in keeping with his character, he is still keeping busy around Reading instead of going on holiday in case he gets the call to come off standby.

O'Neill went to meet him face to face to explain his logic, a decision which impressed Quinn. He is unsure what the manager is thinking.

"Can you read him?" he laughed.

"I can't read him. I don't want to. I just do my job and hopefully that's enough. I understand he's got tough decisions to make, so we'll see."

Quinn was selected for the opening away games in Georgia and Germany before injury curtailed his involvement in the business end of the campaign.

Realistically, he's in a battle with Meyler, Arter, Gibson and O'Kane for either one or two places depending on the squad shape. They haven't gossiped.


"I think it's a grey area and nobody wants to speak about it," he continued. "You can't rest on your laurels and what you've done throughout the campaign. It's gone now, it's the here and the now. There are quality players around.

"I've got that feeling in my stomach where it could be me (that misses out) but then if I do stay it'd be great but I'd have sympathy for the lads that don't. It's upsetting but that's the way the manager wants to do it and you just have to get on with it."

O'Neill and his team were visited by veteran Scottish ref Hugh Dallas on Monday to explain rule changes, with the new interpretation of an offside causing some confusion in the ranks.

Before they head for France, however, it's O'Neill's change of heart on squad selection that will provide the talking points.

Irish Independent

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