All to play for as Martin O’Neill reveals Euro 2016 D-Day

If Ireland’s fringe players needed any reminding of what is potentially up for grabs in the friendly games at the Aviva tomorrow and Tuesday, Martin O’Neill provided it yesterday by revealing the date on which he will unveil his squad for the European Championship finals.
All to play for as Martin O’Neill reveals Euro 2016 D-Day

Although the FAI have until May 31 to supply Uefa with the panel for France 2016, O’Neill said he plans to announce the names of the chosen 23 on Saturday May 28, the day after Ireland play the Netherlands in a friendly game at the Aviva Stadium.

After a day off, the Euros squad will then reconvene at their Castleknock hotel base on the Sunday night before travelling to Cork the following day to begin a week of training at Fota Island. It’s planned that Ireland will play an additional warm-up game, at Turner’s Cross, on Tuesday May 31, with likely opponents being Belarus, who are playing Northern Ireland in Belfast the previous Friday.

The training camp ends in Fota on Friday, June 3, following which the squad will return to Dublin and another day off for the players before, in O’Neill’s words, it’s “total concentration” ahead of the departure for France and their tournament base in Versailles. There was, perhaps, another Euros straw in the wind for those hoping to make an impression against Switzerland and Slovakia, in the fact that O’Neill and his players took a trip to the cinema on Tuesday night to see Sing Street, the story of some young Irish hopefuls aiming for the bright lights. “There was at least one actor over 15 in it,” observed the manager, clearly feeling his age.

For musicians on the up, see the likes of Rob Elliot and Alan Judge, both of whom are guaranteed playing time over the next two games, as well as Harry Arter, even if injury has ruled him out of these matches.

Matt Doherty and Jonny Hayes are other newbies hoping to catch the eye while Shane Duffy, seeking to make up for lost time at international level, is another fringe player who will get an outing over the coming nights.

“He’s definitely one that you would like to think is one for the future as some of the older players drop off,” said O’Neill of the Blackburn defender.

“I would like to get him onto the field in some of these games.”

For the more established players, it might be easy to imagine that they have more pressing things on their minds around March than a couple of home friendlies, but O’Neill doesn’t think the fact that the games are coming at such a critical time in the club season will blunt their competitive edge.

“No, I possibly think the other way,” he said. “I take your point entirely: Friendly matches are the bane of club managers’ lives, absolutely, at this stage. But because they are so close to the Euros and because there are, in my genuine belief, a number of places up for grabs, I think it just puts a little bit of edge into it.

“Those players who have done brilliantly in the (qualifying) tournament - we could pretty well have a guess, injury apart, who will be representing us in France — they still seem to want to come over and enjoy it.

“There were no cry-offs from major players here. I do agree with you that they have club issues on their minds. But a couple of days here maybe takes it away from them and then they go back to their clubs and club thinking again.

“But I think with some of these younger lads coming in, this may be their last chance to go and impress, if they get on the field. And I think they would put club issues aside and go for it.”

O’Neill had previously indicated that Darren Randolph and Rob Elliot will get a start apiece tomorrow and Tuesday, and nothing he said yesterday contradicted the impression that both are pretty much nailed on for the Euros squad.

That would leave one goalkeeping berth vacant, with David Forde appearing to have a clear edge over Shay Given for whom a combination of age, protracted injury and lack of game time could prove an insurmountable barrier.

Of course, at Millwall Forde has recently been struggling to command his own place but, said O’Neill yesterday, “he has never let me down in the time I’ve been here. I think you can’t but like Fordey — not that he should be in the squad because you like him — but he’s done very well for me here and I keep going back to the save he made against Germany (in Gelsenkirchen) who could have gone 2-0 up, and we might not have had that equaliser.”

Incidentally, on the subject of goalkeepers, O’Neill was impressed with the contribution of Dundalk’s Gary Rogers on the Abbotstown training pitch this week. “He did excellently,” said the manager. “I think there’s no question he could have played across the channel on the couple of days I’ve seen him.”

Latest injury news from the camp is that, while Jon Walters is out of the game against the Swiss, ongoing treatment at Stoke on a minor hamstring strain should see him back in contention for the Slovakia match on Tuesday.

Robbie Brady trained yesterday and looks fit for selection and, although Robbie Keane sat out yesterday’s session, O’Neill reckoned the skipper will be available for one or both games.

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