Friday 19 October 2018

'I have no regrets over play-off loss' - Martin O'Neill

Manager Martin O'Neill finalises his Ireland squad. Photo: Sportsfile
Manager Martin O'Neill finalises his Ireland squad. Photo: Sportsfile

John Brennan

Martin O'Neill has got his mojo back. After taking three months out, and staying silent in that time while dabbling with taking the Stoke job, the Irish football manager was back firing last week as he announced a newish Irish squad to go to Turkey in ten days for a four-day training camp and a friendly.

And it was just not just a few barrels aimed at Michael O'Neill's comments about player recruitment, for Martin made it clear he has no regrets about the fact that Ireland lost their World Cup play-off on a 5-1 scoreline last November. Was he disgusted it happened? Of course, but it was simply a product of the fact that Ireland had to win the match. What score we lost it by didn't really matter to Martin O'Neill.

"If I was given the circumstances of that match again I don't think I would change anything, The truth is, for all the talking about that game, if James McClean's shot goes in, it is 2-0 and we win the game.

"It didn't," he remembers ruefully, "and that gives Denmark a lifeline. They get back in the game and they score twice in a minute, goals that we shouldn't concede, whatever you say.

"And now we need to go and chase the game. We knew that regardless of what was happening that physically we would be weaker with the players that were coming on (at half-time).

"But we needed to chase the game, we needed 45 minutes to chase the game and there is always the possibility of them scoring on the break and putting us right out of the game which they did.

"I have no problems with this, none at all," he repeats strongly.

"I have chased games all my career. I remember at Aston Villa, we had a terrific side, we got beaten at Chelsea, we were 4-0 down against Chelsea at half-time and John Robertson (his then coach) is telling me we should shut up shop now.

"'No,' I said, because I thought we could get back in the game. We got beaten 7-0 I think. I have no problem chasing any game, I have always done that. I don't mind getting well beaten, just to sit there and think we might make a change with 15 minutes to go and get a goal. Ireland are not renowned for scoring a lot of goals so we take our chances in that match against Denmark. In the circumstances I would do exactly the same again."

But you got slaughtered for that Martin? "That is the nature of football. It didn't happen and it is a big disappointment and it will be an even bigger disappointment to sit and watch the World Cup and know we were so close to getting there.

"If you had said to me at the beginning of the qualifying tournament if we had to beat anybody here, maybe with the exception of Spain and Germany, but if we had to beat anybody here to win the final game to get to Russia, I'd have taken that. As it is we had that opportunity and we spurned it."

So now it is time for a new breed with the likes of Declan Rice (West Ham), Liam Kelly (Reading), Matt Doherty (Wolves), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United) and Kieran O'Hara (Manchester United) getting call-ups for the training camp and Turkey match.

And there are welcome returns after injuries for Alan Judge and John Egan of Brentford and Preston's Seán Maguire.

But striking options remain thin on the ground, with O'Neill naming just three attackers in a 30-man provisional squad.

"Obviously I am delighted Seán is back," O'Neill says. "I spoke to him a while ago and he planned to be back in time for this international window. The operation he had was pretty severe - but he's back now and has got a few goals for Preston and that's good for him.

"In terms of timing that's fine, and then there's young Scott Hogan and I think he can find the net too. He's got work to do on his game and he knows that himself and this is the opportunity for them.

"We've the next couple of months (and the matches against France and USA) to work on these things. I wouldn't want to put phenomenal pressure on these lads, not to say that one of these lads is going to be the new Robbie Keane."

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