Tuesday 18 June 2019

O'Neill seeks late joy from year to forget

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

On Martin O'Neill's last appearance in Dublin, he had signed off defiantly by stating that Ireland would qualify for Euro 2020 because "he was good".

There's no doubt that belief remains, but the Ireland manager was in slightly more reflective mood yesterday as he was asked to assess how he would describe the year to date.

"It's not been good, no," he replied. "The international (friendly) matches have been tough. It's been a tough old year, but we have to fight back."

Does he carry that burden?

"Of course, why wouldn't I?" he responded. "But we've fought back before and qualified for a tournament in France. (Then) we were beaten in the (World Cup) play-offs but we qualified for the play-offs, that's the point.

"So yes, let's try to fight back. See where these games take us and try to roar back."

His recent squad announcements have not been noted for their positivity, however. That's because of the Declan Rice shadow which has hung over the autumn and inevitably reared its head again in the announcement ahead of the games with Northern Ireland and Denmark.

O'Neill does not believe that Rice had a second meeting with Gareth Southgate in recent weeks.


Still, while reading too much into body language and tone is ill-advised, the Derryman did strike several notes of caution during his conference at SSE Airtricity HQ.

There were repeated references to factors that could be swaying Rice towards England, most notably on the commercial side of things and the influence of his new agent.

"I don't think that in all honesty that Gareth (Southgate) has gone and promised him the earth at the end of the day," said O'Neill, who conceded it's a simple reality that Rice will note England's regular participation in major tournaments compared to Ireland.

"I think that he (Southgate) has said, 'I think that you are a really decent player, look at the competition that we have but look at what you can do - then the decision is entirely to you'.

"Then, on top of that, (when) commercially it becomes really, really strongly in one person's favour to go for England then it must be a consideration. I honestly don't think that that is the main thought in the family, I really don't.

"The contractual situation is probably something that is uppermost in his mind but I think the family would like him to make a decision before the end of the year."

They are not alone in that view.

There are some notable names listed in the 36-man panel that will be trimmed down over the weekend.

Seamus Coleman and Robbie Brady are back involved again, yet this camp has come too soon for James McCarthy with Everton taking precautions.

Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Ryan Manning (Rotherham), Jimmy Dunne (Hearts) and Michael Obafemi (Southampton) are the four new calls although it would be a surprise if they all made the final cut.

O'Neill is satisfied that Dunne and Obafemi are committed despite competing interests and their social media messages yesterday indicated as much.

He did call Dunne amid reports that Northern Ireland were keen, while Ireland U-19 boss Tom Mohan assured the senior manager there was no issue with Dublin-born Obafemi who has Nigerian parents and moved to England as a child.

The latter is a speedy striker on the books of a Premier League club so his progress will be of interest with O'Neill referring to the "big league" again when pressed on other players.

He enjoyed the friction of Sunday's FAI Cup final, yet the only player in his thoughts would appear to be Dundalk winger Michael Duffy who is going through his transfer from Northern Ireland.

Patrick McEleney's short stay at Oldham was indirectly referenced. Stephen Kenny's recent criticism of the perception that Irish players cannot play was put to O'Neill but he effectively batted away the comment.

"If you go right back to Jack Charlton's day, he was criticised for a direct style and left out a great player in Liam Brady," said O'Neill.

"But I was speaking to Roy Keane and Robbie Keane who have said it's always been the case... you are hoping that eventually over time things will change. You have to try to win some football matches as well too, that's the idea."

With one win from seven in 2018, you sense he will take one no matter how it's achieved.

Republic of Ireland Provisional Squad

Goalkeepers: D Randolph (Middlesbrough), C Doyle (Hearts), C Kelleher (Liverpool), S McDermott (Kristiansund BK).

Defenders: S Coleman (Everton), C Christie (Fulham), M Doherty (Wolves), R Keogh (Derby), S Duffy (Brighton), C Clark (Newcastle Utd), K Long (Burnley), J Dunne (Hearts*), J Egan, E Stevens (Sheffield Utd), D Lenihan, D Williams (Blackburn Rvs), G Cunningham (Cardiff City).

Midfielders: R Brady, J Hendrick (Burnley), H Arter (Cardiff City*), C Hourihane, G Whelan (Aston Villa), D Meyler (Reading), A Browne (Preston), S Williams (Millwall), R Towell, R Manning (Rotherham Utd*), C O'Dowda (Bristol City), J McClean (Stoke City).

Forwards: S Long, M Obafemi (Southampton), S Hogan (Aston Villa), S Maguire, C Robinson (Preston), A O'Brien (Millwall), R Curtis (Portsmouth).

*Indicates the player is on loan

Irish Independent

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