Monday 11 December 2017

Martin O'Neill admits unease in giving out Ireland caps to players 'that haven't earned that yet'

Manager of Republic of Ireland Martin O'Neill during a pitchside press conference at the MetLife Stadium, New Jersey, USA. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Manager of Republic of Ireland Martin O'Neill during a pitchside press conference at the MetLife Stadium, New Jersey, USA. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice, New Jersey

MARTIN O'Neill hopes that the current crop of players at his disposal in the USA for tonight's friendly against Mexico are able to sustain their international careers and do not vanish off the scene.

O'Neill is likely to hand debuts to Alan Browne and Kevin Long against Mexico in New Jersey (1.36am Irish time) while players who have just the one cap (Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle, John Egan, Conor Hourihane, Colin Doyle) hope to get more international experience in the US leg of this three-game series.

But trips to the USA have not always worked out for Irish hopefuls: in the US tour of the US under Steve Staunton in 2007, 11 players made their international debuts but nine would never play for their country again (including Colin Doyle, aiming to win his second cap tonight) while Stephen Gleeson, a debutant in 2007, had to wait until earlier this year for his next taste of senior international football.

"I don't think I will tell the players that," laughed O'Neill when made aware that nine of those capped on that 2007 tour would not play for the Republic again.

"I think it's just a natural progression. Some people come up and do well, some people just fall by the wayside, not only at club level but at international level and particularly at international level.

"How many come through from this to be celebrated Republic of Ireland players, I couldn't tell you.

"It does kind of plague me a bit, giving some players time to see what they are like but then feeling that, really, they haven't earned that yet. It's still an honour to play for your country which they accept.

"I don't really want to have a history of players with one or two caps and then fall by the wayside but somewhere along the way I have to find out, if they are not playing at club level, what they are like here for us because the choice is not that great," says O'Neill.

Senior players like Glenn Whelan, Stephen Ward and Aiden McGeady  and Robbie Brady will come back into the frame for Sunday's friendly with Uruguay and the qualifier against Austria but O'Neill says there's still a chance for the fringe players here in New Jersey to make a case.

"Some lads here, any opportunity you have of getting on this field, try and do something. If you're a fullback, try and close people down. If you're a midfielder, get on the ball," said the boss.

"You might have a 20 minute spell where you don't get a kick of the ball and that may not be your fault but try and influence the game when you're on it. That will be the message from me to them and that will be the case."

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