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Sunday 23 September 2018

'I'm not here to be talking about players letting us down' - Martin O'Neill says Ireland must deliver next month

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill looks on against Wales
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill looks on against Wales
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill watches the action at the Cardiff City Stadium. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Martin O'Neill says that next month's Dublin double-header with Wales and Denmark will show that there is still life in his team.

Thursday's drubbing at the hands of the Welsh in Cardiff has placed further scrutiny on the decision to retain O'Neill and Roy Keane for a third campaign in charge.

But O'Neill insists that a comeback for several of his key players will bring about a return to form.

The 66-year-old has conceded that Ireland need to win the home matches to salvage their maiden campaign in the UEFA Nations League.

If Ireland finish bottom of the group containing the Danes and the Welsh, they will be condemned to third-seed status for the regular Euro 2020 qualifiers.

A defiant O'Neill has asserted that he is capable of turning it around, but stressed that his players need to take control of their club situations in the intervening period - he believes that an absence of energy and match sharpness was partially to blame for the Welsh failure.

"We have to win our home games for a start and give ourselves a chance," said O'Neill, as he reflected on a grim night.

"I think we have to improve in all aspects. I'm not shell-shocked. I know what our lads can do and I think, regardless of whether they've not played some football or not, regardless of whether they might get tired towards the end of the game, I think we know we can do it.

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"Next month there might be one or two fitter lads. I'm hoping one or two will be back. Some players would need to do more if they are not playing (with clubs).

"But that said, even if we didn't have these players back we still have a big fight on our hands to try and get something from the two games next month. That will be hard work but we want to be up for it."

O'Neill refused to single out players for criticism in the aftermath of the Wales defeat, when pressed on the performance of a full-strength defence. He suggested that issues with closing players down went beyond the experienced back four.

"I'm not here to be talking about players letting us down," he said.

"Some of the players have done brilliantly for their country and done brilliantly for me over the years and I hope that is the way it will remain. I think you have to look at everything.

"One of the things when you don't have the ball - and we didn't have the ball greatly - is that we have to close down in a pack, not just one or two of you."

Ireland have serious problems at the other end of the pitch and O'Neill will have to experiment in Tuesday's friendly with Poland as Jon Walters has gone back to Ipswich to undergo treatment.

The Irish squad have stayed in Wales to train before flying to Wroclaw tomorrow and Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher has been invited to join the group but the goalkeeper will not travel.

"At the minute, with our lack of options at centre-forward, we had to play Jon for 90 minutes," said O'Neill, who hinted that the fact that Ireland's goal came from a 31-year-old competitive debutant - Shaun Williams - said something about his options.

"I don't know where he was in his twenties. When I came into the job, he was playing third division football. It's a step up now that some lads in the Championship might find tough going.

Meanwhile, former Ireland international Wes Hoolahan could be making a return to the Championship with West Brom. Hoolahan has been training with the Baggies and it's understood that the free agent has impressed to the extent that contract talks have now kicked off.

Irish Independent

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