Monday 22 January 2018

O'Neill thinking ahead as Irish seek friendly edge

Manager Martin O'Neill will use the Republic of Ireland's end-of-season friendlies as dress rehearsals for next summer's Euro 2016 showdown with Scotland
Manager Martin O'Neill will use the Republic of Ireland's end-of-season friendlies as dress rehearsals for next summer's Euro 2016 showdown with Scotland
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill during a press conference ahead of their 3 International Friendly against Turkey

Damian Spellman

Martin O'Neill will use the Republic of Ireland's end-of-season friendlies as dress rehearsals for next summer's Euro 2016 showdown with Scotland, beginning with this evening's clash against Turkey at the Aviva Stadium.

The two sides meet in Dublin on June 13 next year in what could prove to be a pivotal clash in the race for qualification from Group D.

They will do so several weeks after the end of the domestic season in England, where most of O'Neill's players ply their trade, and Scotland, meaning the men involved will have to maintain their match-fitness and sharpness long after many of their club-mates head for the beach. For that reason, O'Neill is delighted to be able to reproduce the kind of conditions under which his squad will have to operate in 12 months' time as he prepares for the four friendlies.

This evening's game will be followed by games against Italy in London next weekend, and Costa Rica and Portugal in the US next month.

"This is an opportunity. It's ideal for me – it's not for the players in the sense that it's at the end of the season," said O'Neill. "But this time next year, we are going to be playing a game in mid-June against Scotland, so from that viewpoint when the players looked at that, they thought, 'Listen here, let's get on with it'. From the viewpoint of, is there going to be a bit of a competitive edge? Absolutely."

Defender John O'Shea, who will captain the team in the absence of Robbie Keane, who will not join up until the squad heads for the US next month, acknowledged the importance of replicating the kind of intensity which will be required ahead of the showdown with the Scots.

"This time next year, we will be well into the campaign and have a very important game on the horizon at this time of the season. In that sense, it's an important time because you have to keep yourself in shape after the season finishes, not switch off totally. It's going to be a key time. With the manager not having played a competitive game yet, the squad is still in that honeymoon period, everyone is settling in and wanting to impress, as you always will be in training. But there's still freshness about it and an eagerness, as you can tell from the numbers that have turned up and wanting to be involved in matches."

O'Shea, like Everton's Seamus Coleman, will be excused the trans-Atlantic leg of the get-together after a gruelling season with Sunderland, who flirted with relegation from the Premier League.

But before O'Shea gets to put his feet up, there is the small matter of 90 minutes against Turkey, a side O'Neill expects to cause more than a few problems.

"They are strong," he said. "I have just watched a couple of DVDs of them. Of course, they will make a couple of changes in the side – I think there's a bit of emphasis on some new young players coming into the squad as well to mix with a bit of experience.

"But from the recent games they have played, they looked decent. But Turkey are Turkey and they will cause you plenty of problems."

Hull midfielder David Meyler was able to train yesterday morning after sitting out the two previous days with a calf problem, and he is expected to be available for selection, while Newcastle 'keeper Rob Elliot could be handed a debut. He will miss the Italy game at Craven Cottage next weekend for his wedding. He and David Forde are the only two 'keepers in the current squad, although O'Neill is keeping an eye on Keiren Westwood's situation as he looks for a new club following his release by Sunderland.

"Of course it's important for him because we have got a couple of goalkeepers here at this moment and Keiren has always been in the reckoning because of his talent, and maybe this might be a decisive moment for him."

O'Neill's team will debut a new home kit today. Themed 'Green to the Core', the new home jersey and team kit is almost entirely green with the exception of a white collar and white turnover on the classic green socks.

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