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Sunday 16 December 2018

Enda Stevens backs Martin O'Neill to turn Ireland's fortunes around after disappointing year

Enda Stevens. Photo: Sportsfile
Enda Stevens. Photo: Sportsfile

Damian Spellman

Enda Stevens has backed manager Martin O'Neill to get it right once again as the Republic of Ireland wave goodbye to a disappointing year.

Monday night's 0-0 Nations League draw in Denmark left them with just one win in nine fixtures during 2018, their worst return since 1982.

O'Neill has found himself in the firing line after a series of toothless displays which has seen his team fail to score in almost seven hours of football, but Stevens is confident he is still the right man for the job.

Asked if he felt the Derryman had taken Ireland as far as he could, the Sheffield United defender said: "Not at all.

"He's capped an awful lot of new players over the course of this year. It's going to take time to gel and get used to each other.

"We've had a long injury list - Robbie Brady was out for a while, James McCarthy is still to come back in, so it's positive in a way. These players coming back can only help us."

Recent performances have sparked a tide of criticism - Ireland have been relegated from Nations League B after drawing home and away with Group 4 winners Denmark, but losing twice to Wales - but Stevens is convinced the scrutiny that has brought will stiffen resolve for what lies ahead.

He said: "It will only bring us closer together. It's a tight-knit dressing room. Each and every one of the lads works as hard as they can for each other, for the manager, for the staff and for the badge.

"We want to do well and we're working hard for that. We're proud to represent our country. All we can do is keep working away and hopefully things will click."

The squad will not now reconvene until March, when the Euro 2020 qualification campaign begins with Ireland among the hosts.

In the circumstances, failure to make it to the tournament for the third time in a row would represent a major blow with Stevens and his team-mates firmly believing they can do so despite their current difficulties.

He said: "We'll be going into the qualifiers confident enough to say we're good enough to qualify. The players are there, the squad is there. It's just about getting that winning mentality and getting used to winning."

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