Tuesday 23 January 2018

England clash offers O'Neill's squad chance to forget club problems

Recent club disappointments fresh in the mind of several Irish players

Republic of Ireland players go through their paces in training at Gannon Park in Malahide yesterday
Republic of Ireland players go through their paces in training at Gannon Park in Malahide yesterday
After the disappointment of the FA Cup, Shay Given was all smiles in Malahide with coach Seamus McDonagh after winning a game of ‘head tennis’
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

International football games of significance in June are considered perilous because there is a danger players will slip into holiday mode.

The weather in Malahide yesterday did its best to give Martin O'Neill's squad the feeling they are still in winter. "It's generally been pretty good since my time here," said the shivering Irish manager after the first training session of this 'summer' gathering. "This is as bad as it's been."

Dark clouds hung over the session at Gannon Park and the Irish boss has decided to bring his squad to the less exposed surroundings of the Aviva Stadium today ahead of a two-week gathering that is building up to the campaign-defining Euro 2016 qualifier with Scotland on June 13.

Before that, there's a closed-doors friendly with Northern Ireland on Thursday and the visit of England on Sunday which has considerable symbolic importance.

It may take on a different meaning for a number of O'Neill's 27-man party who could reasonably feel that the weather is running in tandem with their mood at the moment.


Shay Given was present and correct 48 hours after being on the wrong end of a Wembley drubbing. Hull quartet David Meyler, Robbie Brady, Stephen Quinn and Paul McShane are trying to bounce back from the agony of relegation, with the latter suffering a double whammy when Steve Bruce decided against renewing his contract.

The Championship contingent have had a little longer to digest their bad news with the Ipswich and Derby representatives falling short of promotion aims and James McClean and David Forde plotting their next move after Wigan and Millwall dropped out of the Championship.

Good vibes are in short supply. Harry Arter, the Bournemouth midfielder, is in line for a first cap to complete a dream season. And Wes Hoolahan will join the group late after convincing Norwich that a problem with the tendon at the back of his knee doesn't require rest ahead of their return to the top flight.

"Wes wants to play the games, which is great for us," explained O'Neill. "Norwich wanted him to not play and get himself right in the summertime but Wes has left that out of the equation and I think he's going to be alright."

The 33-year-old should naturally have a spring in his step following a productive day's work at Wembley last Monday. It's the squad members who finished their season on a low that could be forgiven for wanting to be on a beach and forgetting the dilemmas presented by their struggles.

"They're pretty disappointed and it takes a wee while to get over that too," said O'Neill, with specific reference to the Hull brigade. "After giving themselves a great chance of staying up, they blew it against Burnley and have suffered the consequences.

"From a selfish viewpoint, it's not as if they're just going to forget about that. It takes a bit of time but these are important games for us now coming up so I don't think they're going to just stay dwelling on it. I think they can (use games) to lift themselves."

Given is back as first-choice in the Irish camp and O'Neill did speak with the 39-year-old about a rough afternoon against Arsenal.

He didn't think there was much the netminder could have done about the key moments of the FA Cup decider, and overall he's just satisfied that he is arriving for duty with no concerns about his match sharpness for the first time since he came out of Irish retirement. "They were well and truly beaten in the match and there was a lot of below-par performances so he's disappointed for everyone," said O'Neill.

"I thought he was unsighted for the first goal and the second goal has definitely moved a lot.

"But he's got that game and he's got the matches now. He's played a number of matches before the end of the season so from that point of view he's fine."

The Northern Irish encounter will be primarily used to improve the conditioning of the second-tier performers who've been out of action since May 2.

Considering that previous gatherings in this window have been dominated by mass withdrawals, it's encouraging for management that every player is keen to be here.

The downside is that it meant chopping his provisional panel from 33 to 27 with newcomers Alan Judge and Adam Rooney missing out, a shame for the duo who had spoken excitedly about their breakthrough.

"I hadn't made my mind up at the time," said O'Neill, when asked specifically about Judge.

"I've spoken to him. He did very well this season and he very nearly made it."

Jon Walters, Hoolahan, Shane Long, Stephen Ward, Aiden McGeady and Marc Wilson were absent for a light work-out but the sextet are due in ahead of today.

Robbie Keane is staying in the US until after the English fixture because he is required by LA Galaxy.

With a smile, O'Neill declined requests to speak about football's global crisis that goes by the name of FIFA.

For the next fortnight, his priority is making sure that everything is alright at home.

Irish Independent

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