Monday 20 November 2017

Sideshows won't distract Martin O'Neill from serious business at hand

Martin O’Neill faces another crucial week as Ireland boss
Martin O’Neill faces another crucial week as Ireland boss
Robbie Keane in action at the new FAI training facilities at Abbotstown yesterday
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The proliferation of security men in hi-vis jackets made it clear that this was a big day for everyone in Abbotstown.

Shortly before 11.0am, the team bus containing the Irish senior squad pulled into FAI HQ for the first time, ready to begin life in their new base at the evolving National Sports Campus. They trained in front of a healthy turnout of the association's staff with a soundtrack of construction work continuing in the background.

Martin O'Neill has admitted that he will miss the comfort of Malahide and Portmarnock, but acknowledged that a move into the specially constructed facility represented progress.

"I think I initially might have had a concern," admitted O'Neill after a light training session building towards Friday's Euro 2016 qualifier in Gibraltar and the second part of the double header at home to Georgia on Monday.

"But the pitch here is absolutely splendid, it couldn't be better and I think myself, in time, that the whole environment will be based around the headquarters here. It was the vision for the FAI and well done to them for pressing on with it. This is about the future."


Of course, the autumn will dictate if the 63-year-old is a part of the longer term plans and that's why he could do without distractions from the task at hand. In addition to adjusting to the different facilities in Dublin 15, and the living quarters in the Castleknock Hotel, the close of the transfer window today is another variable to consider.

Jon Walters has been given permission to stay in England as there is a strong chance he will be leaving Stoke City after submitting a transfer request last night; Norwich and West Brom are monitoring the situation.

O'Neill will be flexible if other players are the subject of last-minute business that requires leaving the camp, although he senses that - aside from Walters - loan developments are more likely than permanent switches.

"If it's actually a full blooded transfer then if they have to go, they have to go," he said. "For a loan deal, then I think if they (clubs) are happy enough with medicals being done elsewhere, it might be a case of faxing from here and being OK with that."

Everton's Seamus Coleman was reported to be a target for PSG and Bayern Munich over the weekend, but O'Neill doesn't envisage Roberto Martinez being open to business.

However, he is aware of speculation that Aiden McGeady could find an escape route on a temporary basis. "I've heard the same talk as well about the possibility of Aiden going on loan but at this moment I don't know any more," he said.

Given his concerns about McGeady's inactivity and the esteem in which he holds the player, one suspects that O'Neill would help out with the paperwork himself if he felt it would improve the Glaswegian's club standing.

The 29-year-old's situation is frustrating for the Derryman because he can do nothing about it.

For different reasons, he feels the same applies to another Irishman in the news, the in-form Crystal Palace defender Damien Delaney who has made himself unavailable for service.

The Corkman made the headlines a fortnight ago by releasing a statement about his absence where, amongst other things, he denied looking for a guaranteed place in O'Neill's side.

"I am not going there," said the Irish boss initially, before eventually elaborating on his side of the story.

"He said that he was of an age where he did not want to travel around with the team and really not be involved with the side. I said, 'I cannot guarantee you that'.

"It is relatively straightforward. I didn't fall out with him. Damien did not want to go to America (in May 2014). He played the match against Turkey and didn't want to travel a couple of days later.

"He volunteered the information that he thought I was going down another route. Not at all."

O'Neill was alluding to Delaney's belief that Ireland required a coherent style of play across all levels, with the experienced centre-half adding that Giovanni Trapattoni's team had one even if it wasn't to everybody's liking.

"He asked me do I want to play a different way because I think he had played a couple of long balls or something like that," continued O'Neill.

"I said, 'not at all'. I have had some of the strongest centre-halves in my time playing at Leicester, Celtic and Aston Villa, some of them were very comfortable on the ball like Matty Elliott and some, like Bobo Balde, were not.

"You know, being able to defend first in games is very, very important. That is what I am looking for. So I do not see how Damien could pick up anything else and think I was looking for someone who could caress it all the time because that is not the case."

He added that Delaney would be considered for selection if he changed his stance.

Realistically, the central defensive department is unlikely to be an issue against Gibraltar. The fixture on Friday which may well be of greater significance to Ireland's outside chance of qualification is Scotland's date with Georgia in Tbilisi.

Still, there's a job to be done in Faro so new caps Eunan O'Kane and Adam Rooney may find that the scope for experimentation is limited.

The latter has forced his way into the picture by impressing in Scotland with Aberdeen. O'Neill feels that the standard in the SPL has dropped since his stint at Celtic but he thinks the Dubliner has earned an audition.

"He's getting a few goals which obviously helps and we had one or two players drop out," he said, a reference to Ipswich pair Daryl Murphy and David McGoldrick. "I think it was worthwhile keeping him in."

Rooney's partner Rachel may disagree as she is due to give birth to their first child in a fortnight.

"We just hope it doesn't come early now," smiled the 27-year-old. "It could be a great couple of weeks for me.

"I'm just delighted to be here. Whether the game is against Gibraltar or Germany, it's no difference to me in terms of how I approach training. I'm feeling sharp by playing every week and scoring."

Irish Independent

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