Wednesday 22 November 2017

Real work only starting for new boss Martin O'Neill

Finalising back-room team tops agenda as O'Neill plots Euro course

Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane gesture to officials during the friendly against Poland
Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane gesture to officials during the friendly against Poland
Marc Wilson played both centre-back and midfield in the two friendlies DAVID MAHER/SPORTSFILE
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

WHAT now for Martin O'Neill? He has asked himself that question as he faces into the unchartered territory of a winter in work, but without the familiarity of games and the daily interaction with players.

The Ireland manager will have to wait until the build-up to the March 5 friendly with Serbia to link up with his squad again, with the break giving the Derry man more thinking time than he would prefer in an ideal world.

Nevertheless, there are issues he needs to address. The double-header with Latvia and Poland followed so quickly from his appointment that there was a rushed element to the initial preparations.

Aside from the obvious fact that he didn't pick the squad, there was also an inadequate level of time to finalise a full back-room team and map out a preferred itinerary in terms of training and travel.

After a week of seeing how the FAI go about their business, the 61-year-old will reflect and then come to Ireland to meet with John Delaney and set out changes he would like to make.

"It was right in your face for the number of the days that we had (preparation)," said O'Neill as he reflected on the bigger picture in the aftermath of Tuesday's scoreless draw in Poland. "I will be able to take stock now and have a look at it.

"I am hoping to be over in Dublin next week at some stage to get a couple of days with John and maybe see the back-room staff and that kind of thing. There's a few things to organise."

O'Neill had originally looked at bringing in coaches Steve Walford and Steve Guppy, but had no specific update on the state of play as regards his former lieutenants. Players have described his training ground approach as hands on with his assistant Roy Keane also in the thick of things, a contrast from their club personas.

"Roy has been a positive influence," asserted the manager, "It's early yet, but I'm sure if you grabbed a word with the players, they'd have nothing but praise for him so far."

It is 10 months until the road to Euro 2016 gets under way, with the draw taking place in Nice on February 23 and Ireland poised to enter that campaign as second seeds.


While the first qualifier is a long way over the horizon, the revised structure of the international calendar has reduced the number of friendly windows in the intervening period.

The unpopular August date is off the agenda, meaning that O'Neill will have to rely on the Serbian encounter and then a prolonged summer camp to press home his ideas to the players.

He is aware that the FAI expect to be presented with the option of another jaunt to America after last June's Yankee Stadium encounter with Spain was a commercial success.

It's envisaged that a large number of the World Cup protagonists will use the US as a base before heading to Brazil and the finals draw will give nations a chance to assess what kind of opposition they want to play in the build-up. England's opponents tend to view games against Ireland as suitable preparation.

Meanwhile, the agreed return of England to Dublin will take place in either November 2014 or February 2015 provided the nations are kept apart in the Euros draw.

In his previous guise as a club manager, O'Neill failed to see the point of international squads spending lengthy periods together at the tail-end of a gruelling campaign.

Unsurprisingly, he has revised that standpoint.

"I must admit, I thought: 'What are they up to, the boys should be lying on a beach.' Now I am going to reverse it completely and say to them 'what were they ever thinking of?'

"Obviously, as the games in September come closer, I am starting to look at it from the viewpoint that there are only so many times that you can get them. I do accept that players will be thinking, depending on where you are going and what you are doing, if the games that we could organise (are worth it).

"I am thinking from a distance that if they were really, really meaningful then it might be interesting. But I am totally aware of players at the end of the season being absolutely drained.

"They have club commitments now. It's been great and terrific in the dressing-room the last week, the boys have been great, but they will have tuned into club football the minute they touched down."

Football-wise, it is safe to assume that O'Neill will be a far more visible presence than Trapattoni in the stands of Premier League and Championship grounds. He wants to educate himself on his personnel, stressing that he already has certain ideas in his head. Regular trips to the Britannia Stadium are on the cards.

"By March, I can form a strong opinion on the players and maybe just find out what position (Marc) Wilson might end up playing in," he said, referring to the versatile 26-year-old, who spent the entirety of the Latvia stroll and the first hour of the Polish draw at centre-half, before a short cameo in central midfield.

Of course, turning up regularly at Stoke will also offer the opportunity to see where Stephen Ireland really stands.

The recruitment process could extend beyond the obvious pool and delve into the family trees of individuals who may qualify.

"There'll be other players I'll go and check, through their heritage, and if there's someone out there who I think is worthwhile and hasn't been disturbed in any aspect – I'll certainly have a look at that

"Just on a general point," he continued, "I think it's really early yet for me to start making big assumptions on the team. We've played the two games and we've come out unscathed in the end.

"We could have created more (in Poland), obviously, but from the general viewpoint I am pretty pleased. I will get to see quite a number of these players over the next few months and I'll be able to form a stronger impression."

His predecessor was criticised for keeping his distance. O'Neill admitted earlier in the week that aside from a chance meeting in Burton, he'd never spoken with Trapattoni about the Irish players in his care at Aston Villa and Sunderland.

While he wouldn't view himself as part of any managerial clique, he indicated that he might establish contact with the relevant bosses.

"I don't want to make a nuisance of myself," he asserted, "But that is something that I might do."

As the squad packed up their gear and headed for the team bus on Tuesday, their manager suggested he would call a few of them after Christmas. "They turned and ran," he joked.

But with the buzz building around the team again, combined with the reality that the Serbian squad will be the first actually chosen by O'Neill, you suspect there'll be plenty of players that would be more than happy to take a call.

Irish Independent

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