By Joe Callaghan in New Jersey
Martin O’Neill has insisted tonight’s Stateside friendly with Mexico can be a springboard for some of Ireland’s up and comers — rather than the type of false dawn many have experienced on international duty on this side of the Atlantic.
O’Neill is poised to deploy an experimental line-up at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey with James McClean skippering a side made up largely of Championship performers. There could be two new Ireland internationals before the night is out with Kevin Long of Burnley and Preston’s Alan Browne both hoping for first caps.
While Ireland’s history of US friendlies is peppered with players who came, saw and were rarely seen again, O’Neill is adamant tonight’s clash (which takes place at 1.30am Irish time) can be more meaningful for those involved.
“I think it's just a natural progression. Some people come up and do well, some people just fall by the wayside, not only at club level but at international level and particularly at international level,” said the Ireland manager ahead of the first of three games in the space of 10 days, culminating in a crucial World Cup qualifier with Austria in Dublin.
“Again it's the message I mentioned yesterday, but any opportunity you have of getting on this field, try and do something. You might have a 20-minute spell where you don't get a kick of the ball and that may not be your fault but try and influence the game when you're on it. That will be the message from me to them and that will be the case.
“How many come through from this to be celebrated Republic of Ireland players, I couldn't tell you. I don't really want to have a history of players with one or two caps and then fall by the wayside but somewhere along the way I have to find out, if they are not playing at club level, what they are like here for us because the choice is not that great.
“I hope during the course of time that the younger lads who might get something from this trip go on and force their way into the side.”
While O’Neill kept his cards largely close to his chest during Wednesday night’s tune-up at the MetLife, he did confirm he will opt for a 3-5-2 system with McClean and Cyrus Christie as wing backs. Shane Duffy will also get much-needed game time. Midfielder Eunan O’Kane is another who O’Neill is hoping will benefit from minutes against the 16th ranked side in the world.
“I think he's been disappointed with the end of the season as he wasn't getting into the Leeds side,” said O’Neill of his fellow Derryman.
“Eventually that does cause a problem in the fact you haven't played a lot of games and then because of it there isn't that chance to shine at club level. Particularly if you're one of those players that is trying to impress at international level.”
It’s almost certain that Daryl Murphy and David McGoldrick will lead the line for Ireland in front of an expected crowd of around 40,000. But for the man leading them out, it will be a 50th cap to remember.
“James McClean will start and he will be captain of the team,” said O’Neill, before revealing he hadn’t yet informed the West Brom winger of the news.
“The truth is that I haven’t confirmed it to him, I have confirmed it to you. I expect his reaction to be absolutely delighted. He wanted to come on the trip and he wanted to get a cap. Every opportunity he wants to take because that’s what he wants to do. I haven’t officially or unofficially told him so he’s going to find out through you - unless you give me a couple of minutes.”
McClean has been a key cog on the road to Russia. Now 28, O’Neill is confident handing him the armband will add to his maturation process.
“I think in his personal life, that has settled down and it’s at least three months since he’s had another tattoo so it’s really, really good. He’s in fine form. And he knows how important [maturing] has been.”