Sunday 16 June 2019

'Why would it be a crisis?' - Martin O'Neill insists the Irish camp is not engulfed in turmoil

Martin O’Neill: ‘We need to be at full strength or as close to full strength as possible to be able to compete.” Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Martin O’Neill: ‘We need to be at full strength or as close to full strength as possible to be able to compete.” Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Colin Young

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill has insisted there is no crisis engulfing the camp as they recover from the humiliating defeat in Wales and prepare to face Poland in a friendly on Tuesday night.

The 4-1 drubbing in Cardiff last Thursday in the first game of the UEFA Nations League has intensified the pressure on the former Celtic boss, who has blamed the absence of senior players for Ireland's wretched performance on Thursday.

Injuries to the likes of Shane Long, Sean Maguire, James McCarthy, Robbie Brady and James McClean hampered O'Neill's preparations for the opening match in the new competition. But the 4-1 defeat to Wales emphasised the fragility of the Ireland squad which is also coping with the retirement of Wes Hoolahan and Daryl Murphy.

The build-up last week was overshadowed by the continued omission of West Ham United teenager Declan Rice, as he ponders his international future, and Cardiff City midfielder Harry Arter, who asked not to be considered after a training-ground row with O'Neill's assistant, Roy Keane. O'Neill contends the pair's absence had no impact on Thursday's outcome and he has given Keane his full backing.

"Why would it be a crisis?" said O'Neill. "Harry Arter's situation was quite some months ago. It's just arisen now but that has been put to bed as far as I'm concerned. In terms of Rice, he'll make his mind up in due course. That's fine and I'm hoping he will choose us. Give him a little bit of space, no problem whatsoever.

"In terms of the Wales game, it's a different aspect. We were minus a number of players. We need to be at full strength or as close to full strength as possible to be able to compete. We were found wanting.

"Are the two connected? Absolutely not. I don't see that at all. It doesn't matter what sort of spin you put on it. As far as I'm concerned, it's got nothing to do with it. The players we had at our disposal want to play for us, are desperate to play. It's not just a case of wanting to play . . . you have to be good enough to play.

"We need to do better. We need players to step up to the occasion regardless of how they've played or where they've played at club level the week before."

O'Neill remains confident that English-born teenager Rice, who had indicated he was prepared to play for the senior Ireland team after three friendly appearances, will still choose Ireland over the country of his birth. England manager Gareth Southgate has spoken to the 19-year-old about his options since the World Cup finals in June.

Rice, who has played throughout the age groups for Ireland, is expected to make his mind up before the next series of Nations League matches but O'Neill insisted there was no pressure.

"I just think he needs a wee bit of time because his head is spinning," he said. "People putting some things into his head. He needs to sit back and have a think about it. When the England manager has a conversation with you, you feel he thinks enough of you to speak to you. I heard Gareth saying he couldn't promise him anything and I couldn't agree more. Sometimes those kind of things get lost along with the way.

"If Declan wants to have a look at it realistically, he might find out there's a number of players in the position he might want to play in who are much more advanced for England at this minute. Declan isn't starting in the West Ham team at the moment. Listen, he's a young fella and he's got a little bit of time. When he makes that decision, he wants it to be final."

With the trip to Poland on the horizon, O'Neill has enough to contend with and he said he will deal with Arter's absence before selecting his squad for the Denmark and Wales games.

"You know what, I will have a think about it," he said. "When I spoke to Harry, he was saying about a number of things, wanting to concentrate and that's fine. Roy's argument was part of the argument too and that's fine.

"I've had no time to think about it. My concentration from the minute I walked out here is, number one, see if players could escape injury at the weekend, which didn't happen with Shane Long. Then you look to see what you have here and I need to concentrate on Tuesday. I'll have a think about it. Ask me next week when games are out of the way."

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