Wednesday 19 June 2019

Martin O'Neill: 'I don't see that you have to make a radical change because you lose a game'

Manager warns against Danish over-reaction

Martin O'Neill during a press conference at Antalya Stadium
Martin O'Neill during a press conference at Antalya Stadium
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Earlier this week, the FAI's official League of Ireland podcast broadcast an interview with Martin O'Neill that attempted to touch on his football philosophy.

His point of view was straightforward enough. It is the job of youth coaches to develop players and encourage their technical development. Once they get to senior level, the manager's job is to get results.

"You're getting players together for two or three days," he said. "We don't have weeks and weeks with players. It's very important for young players to grow up comfortable with the ball and, if I was an underage coach, I would be absolutely demanding that.

"You cannot win major football matches at international level unless you can deal with the ball. With the best will in the world, I'm not going to bring (that) out of a player in two days' preparation for the game, particularly a player who is 26 or 27 years of age."

The Ireland manager has had three days with the squad to prepare for tonight's friendly here in Antalya, the first match since the Danish horror show at the Aviva Stadium last November.

It is supposed to represent the dawn of a new era and O'Neill has arrived with eight uncapped players and a squad that has a fresh look to it.

Click to view full size image
Click to view full size image

However, there is only one teenager - the highly-touted Declan Rice - present, and it's clear that O'Neill feels he is dealing with players that are already past the point where they can be seriously improved under his watch.

There are coaches who feel that the 65-year-old can be doing more to establish a clear pattern of play that suits the abilities of his personnel and an expectant Irish public will be looking for evidence of that in this encounter.

O'Neill has played a couple of 11 v 11 (or 12 v 11 games to be precise) in order to give the newbies the opportunity to make an impression.

And he indicated yesterday that an experiment with a 3-5-2 formation at some stage across the 90 minutes is likely, although he is mulling over whether to go that way from the outset.

He also stressed that his skipper Seamus Coleman could function as a wing-back.


What he did confirm is that Bradford's Colin Doyle will line out in goal, some 10 years and 304 days after winning his first cap on then-manager Steve Staunton's tour of the USA.

From O'Neill's words, it's certain that Rice, Seán Maguire and Scott Hogan will figure at some stage too, with any change to a system that features two strikers certain to benefit the latter pair.

The need to replace Robbie Keane's goals was again referenced and Shane Long is the only other contender, although the Tipperary man is firmly on the cold list and would really benefit from a confidence boost.

He is a survivor from the Denmark drubbing, albeit as a sub, and members of the Irish camp have predictably spoken about moving on.

Saying that, O'Neill wants to leave it in the rear-view mirror while attaching an important caveat.

The Derryman believes that match was a one-off, borne from chasing the game rather than a wake-up call that demands the construction of a new Plan A.

Therefore, he contested a question which implied that radical changes were required.

"I don't see that you have to make a radical change because you lose a game," he said. "The truth of it here, and you can talk about it until you are blue in the face, is that if James McClean's shot was inside the post and not outside we'd win the game and we'd be in Russia.

"I don't think we have to be radical about everything we do. There's a lot of things we did right and I wouldn't be changing them.

"But if you have a couple of games, you might try some little systems out so the players experience them so it's not alien to them if we decided to change during the course of a (competitive) game.

"Everything is worth looking at. Of course, you analyse things at the end of the contest (campaign). And you think, 'Could you have done this or done that', but I wouldn't have said that (not) developing a new system during the course of the campaign which was actually working not too badly, would have been the reason for it."

O'Neill did speculate that Coleman avoiding injury might well have been the difference and lavished praise on his 'world-class' full-back. Those regrets are likely to linger for some time, no matter what spin is put on it.

He suggested that the Turks would be feeling similar emotions as they also have a Russian-free summer on the horizon.

Their collapse was a shade more chaotic, with manager Fatih Terim - who was back for a third crack at the job - leaving his post midway through a campaign that was going reasonably well until he got involved in a brawl in a kebab restaurant.

His replacement Mircea Lucescu presided over a grim autumn that ended their Russian hopes and he then lost a pair of November friendlies against Romania and Albania and is therefore under pressure to instigate a revival.

There is local anticipation that the 32,000-capacity venue will be close to full and the Turkish press conference was peppered with references to a 'rebuilding process', with senior stars such as Arda Turan absent.

Turkey should prove tough opposition for Ireland and O'Neill did hint that he would prefer to have experienced players involved in the first half.

Burnley's Kevin Long and Aston Villa's Conor Hourihane have made inroads in the last 12 months and can expect to feature and a midfield three comprised of Hourihane, Jeff Hendrick and the defensively-minded Rice is an option.

Preston's Alan Browne is another candidate that can push forward to support a front man. Like his clubmate Maguire, the Corkman is seeking to build on a sole Irish cap as a sub.

"I think that one or two of the players have only had one cap for instance, so this is an opportunity," O'Neill said.

"We also have the option as well to have six subs which, with a little bit of luck, we would use, hopefully in a manner in which we will set it up at half-time rather than spoiling the game with a group of them coming on with 10 or 15 minutes to go.

"We would love to still do well in the game and have some experienced players playing to help the younger lads out, but I'm looking forward to it."

In theory, it's the start of a new chapter. In practice, we will find out if that's actually the case.

Irish Independent

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