Thursday 19 September 2019

Stephen Hunt: Martin O'Neill's men must go for in for the kill against wounded animal

12 November 2015; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill during a press conference. Stadion Bilino Pole, Zenica, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
12 November 2015; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill during a press conference. Stadion Bilino Pole, Zenica, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Stephen Hunt

When I think back to the long weekends between play-off matches, the thing I remember most is the boredom.

Whatever the result, there is an eagerness to get the second leg on because that is where the real business takes place most of the time.

Friday was a great result for the Irish team and even though there is a short turnaround and they only flew back to Dublin yesterday morning, today will drag.

Our play-off against Estonia was slightly different because, no matter what we said in public, we knew the game was won.

After the first leg in Dublin against France, things were different. We hadn't played well and we had failed to deliver.

We played on a Saturday night and after a game like that you don't sleep until late (this is why flying back after a game is a good idea as well). Instead you say a quick hello to the family and then head for a meal in the hotel. We weren't playing again until the Wednesday so one or two might have a single drink at the bar but mainly you sit around chatting, often about nothing, engaging in some dreaded banter but it often serves a purpose.

In that context, the game might be mentioned and it is easier to deal with than if there was a Sunday morning assembly if you like.

Over dinner or while sitting around, one of the lads might say jokingly, "What the fuck were you doing for the goal?" Players are happier to talk about things in that context and you'll often find that things get sorted out in the post-match environment.

It gets dealt with quicker. At the end of the conversation, someone will say: "It's done now, let's move on."

After Paris, we discussed a lot of things like that. During the boring hours, I would often try to lighten up the conversation too or say something to get a rise out of a player. I knew which players I could do it with and those to avoid. I was never sure, for example, how Robbie would react to what I'd say so I'd usually avoid him.

Travelling yesterday and playing again tomorrow changes things slightly. The worst moment after the first leg in 2009 was training on the Sunday. Only those players who haven't started go out so you're trying to impress, knowing that the manager might be thinking about a change but everything is always a bit underwhelming when the full squad isn't involved.

One thing that didn't happen before the second leg was the widely reported meeting among players where we decided to ignore Trap's instructions and play football.

The way we played in Paris was a direct consequence of having nothing to lose. We knew we had to do something and Trap knew what was going on. Nothing else happened.

Ireland got a great result on Friday but my only concern is how they approach tomorrow's game.

You can talk about teams all you like and prepare players by watching DVDs but both sides will know a lot more about each other after Friday's game. Bosnia's right-back is weak and can be attacked while I was disappointed with James McClean for their equaliser.

Bosnia will be more disappointed. They are in the position we were in after the first leg in 2009. They have failed to deliver at home and now they are a wounded animal. We have to beware. Martin O'Neill says Ireland will attack and it's the only approach that will work. Ireland have achieved some great results in the past few months. Now they must make Monday magical.

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