Martin O’Neill: What will be will be at Euro 16 draw

Martin O’Neill will bound into the Palais Des Congrès this afternoon with a spring in his step and a Doris Day tune in his mind.
Martin O’Neill: What will be will be at Euro 16 draw

‘Que sera, sera’ is his foremost thought as he prepares to learn the Republic of Ireland’s fate in the group draw for the European Championship finals in France next summer.

Having already been through a qualification draw in Nice and a play-off draw in Nyon, the manager is well-prepared to take whatever comes out of the pot in Paris.

After all, the most important thing at this moment is that, having done it the hard way, his team are actually one of the 24 in the final shake-up.

“I’ve very much looking forward to the draw,” he says. “It’s totally different to the draw in Nice where I was apprehensive about it, concerned about being drawn against Germany, and Poland who were very decent, a resurgent Scotland, ourselves, and dark horses in Georgia.

"So from that viewpoint, with Germany almost certain to win the group, that was narrowing things down.

“So this time around we have qualified and I am going in with a freer mind, whoever we get. Here I’m feeling, you know, whatever will be will be.”

Of course, whether he’ll be feeling quite so relaxed about things at the end of today’s proceedings is another matter.

There’s always the possibility that the brute reality of some group-of-death permutation could return him to his old “apprehensive self again”, as he puts it with a smile, adding, “I’ll maybe speak to one or two of ye on Saturday evening and I’ll probably be just as crap as normal!”

Beyond saying that “he genuinely wouldn’t have a problem” with drawing England, O’Neill understandably declines to offer a wishlist or, for that matter, a nightmare scenario.

But he does agree with his Northern Ireland counterpart Michael O’Neill who thinks that if either Irish side were to draw England, the hype surrounding the event could be a distraction from the equal importance of the rest of the group games.

“I probably take that point,” says Martin. “And if ever there was a lesson to be learned from 2012, it’s exactly that. There’s three points from each game and we’re not in position to pick off some side — I don’t care what pot the team is in — to say, ‘Oh, I think we can deal with that’.

"Overall, whatever is there is there for us, I hadn’t realised until recently that there are a couple of third-placed teams (to qualify) as well, so we have everything to play for.”

In terms of practical preparation, O’Neill says the outcome of the draw will help clarify his thoughts on where Ireland might base their pre-tournament training camp.

“I haven’t had a chance to look yet,” he says, “but [FAI director of operations] Peter Sherrard has travelled over and has filled me in on everything, I met up with him and he’s given me the rundown on all the places we could possibly get. Naturally I am very pleased with what he has done.

“Like everything else, because we went through the play-offs, other people might have booked things before us. Holland booked way back, years in advance, and they never made it — so I am delighted to be there, but we will know after the draw whether we are north or south.”

At which point, O’Neill will also learn how many road — or air — miles Ireland will have to contend with in France.

“You have probably worked out the possibilities yourselves, they are endless. My first thought was there was at least half a chance you’d get a game in Paris, then suddenly by the time you get down to Rule 23, it’s changed again and you have the possibility of more southern games.

“I try to think back to [the World Cup in] 1982 with Northern Ireland. We were based in Valencia but we had only one game in Valencia.

“They felt that the hotel was good, which it was, and the facilities not too far away weren’t too bad. But on the morning of the games we had to travel, by plane, to Zaragoza for the two matches we had there, and it was a really hot summer.

“Nowadays I think you have to be ensconced in the area 24 hours before the game so that makes a difference. I think if you’re not a million miles from an airport you will be OK.”

Before all that, O’Neill also has to decide on what kind of build-up he wants to put his team through on the eve of the tournament, bearing in mind there were reports of complaints from some players in Giovanni Trapattoni’s squad about the protracted run-in to the Euro 2012 finals, which saw the squad begin their preparations in Dublin before heading to Tuscany and then, via a stop off for a game in Budapest, to their actual tournament base in Poland.

“It’s almost an Italian way, you take teams away for a certain length of time and they have won World Cups and Championships to prove that’s decent,” says O’Neill.

“We all have our own way of working at things, and I will work on the assumption that when the Championship and Premiership season finishes, we will try and get the players to a stage, whether it takes one day or five or six days, to try and get back into proper fitness, a bit like the way we played the North of Ireland in the game in June — time to try and get players fit, then we played England which was great for us before we played Scotland. I will have a look at it.”

And the risk of cabin fever? “The player nowadays don’t like to be away too long. He is never a million miles away from an app or a mobile phone, as none of us are, but we will see. I am hoping that we might have a little period with them, maybe a few days.”

All of which can be properly termed luxury problems given O’Neill has already delivered on the first target of his reign by leading Ireland into today’s eagerly awaited draw.

As a final thought before the big event, we ask if there’s anything to be learned from his own experience as a player at those famous finals of ’82 in Spain with Northern Ireland.

“Absolutely not,” he grins, “unless Norman Whiteside is available and wants to play for the Republic...”

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